A committee from the State Comptroller’s Office has agreed to reconsider its denial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to be allowed to accept a monetary gift from a Michigan businessman to fund his legal defense. The permits committee announced Tuesday that it agreed to rehear the request due to what it called a “significant change in circumstances” following the three indictments filed against the prime minister in January.
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The committee had rejected Netanyahu’s requests for permission to accept donations for his legal defense three times in the past, but the new state comptroller, Matanyahu Englman, has changed the composition of the panel since the prime minister’s last request.
In September, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit gave Netanyahu permission to accept a loan of two million shekels ($580,000) at market interest rates from the Michigan businessman, Spencer Partrich, to finance his legal expenses.
In his current request to the committee, Netanyahu is seeking permission to accept the funds from Partrich as a gift and not a loan. The prime minister’s lawyers have not yet specified exactly how much he is seeking from Partrich, but they estimated the legal fees involved in Netanyahu’s case at 10 million shekels.
When the previous committee rejected Netanyahu’s request for the third time last June, it did so because Netanyahu had failed to provide the panel with a comprehensive list of his assets. He had also failed to answer the committee’s questions about the nature of his ties to Partrich.
The committee’s statement on Tuesday said that after listening to the arguments presented by Netanyahu’s lawyers, the panel was convinced that there had been “a significant change in the circumstances from those that prevailed at the time the previous decisions were made.”
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The new circumstances include the release of the prosecution’s list of witnesses against Netanyahu, which includes hundreds of people, and the fact that the prosecution’s evidence fills more than 1,000 binders, the panel said.
“The committee accords great weight to the fact that at this time, it is not possible to precisely estimate the [legal] expenses, but only to assume that they will be very sizeable,” it stated, taking note of the 10 million shekel estimate.
The committee also said that because it is an administrative entity rather than a judicial one, it isn’t bound by the judicial principle of finality in its prior decision and can therefore reconsider issues as it sees fit.
Finally, it noted, “Partrich has already signed a conflict of interest agreement that was approved by the attorney general and has given the prime minister a loan of two million shekels.”
Netanyahu’s trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust is slated to begin on March 17, roughly two weeks after the March 2 Knesset election. He already owes the lawyers who represented him during the police investigation and the pre-indictment phase of the case approximately 1.5 million shekels. Of this, more than a million shekels is owed to Yossi Cohen, who has represented the Netanyahu family for years.
Last year, Haaretz reported that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, had raised $300,000 in donations to cover their legal expenses despite never having received permission to do so. That money was received from Netanyahu’s cousin, businessman Nathan Milikowsky.