Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is leaning toward allowing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to receive funds from two tycoons whose names were associated with his cigars-and-champagne affair, in order to pay for his legal defense.
Haaretz has learned that the law office of Jacob Weinroth, who represents Netanyahu, has approached the Justice Ministry with a request to allow Netanyahu to receive financial assistance from his friend Spencer Partridge and cousin Nathan Milikowsky.
Partridge was mentioned in an investigative report by Raviv Drucker, aired on TV Channel 10, regarding the “Bibi-Tours” affair, as someone who placed his private jet at Netanyahu’s disposal in the years he served as finance minister and head of the opposition. In the list of donors in that report, Partridge was listed as “a rich friend, N.’s air taxi in the U.S. did not donate directly but assists in actions.” The prime minister and Partridge said at the time that the tycoon accompanied Netanyahu while he was lecturing in the U.S.
In 2016 Haaretz revealed that Partridge bought half of Netanyahu’s parents’ home from his brother Ido, thus becoming the prime minister’s real estate partner. Partridge paid 8.4 million shekels (currently $2.36 million) for his part. Both sides in this deal were represented by attorney David Shimron, the prime minister’s attorney and confidant.
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Last year Partridge testified in the cigars-and-champagne probe (Case 1000), and was asked to explain the gifts he had given Netanyahu in recent years. He confirmed that he had purchased suits costing tens of thousands of shekels for the prime minister, but said Netanyahu’s cousin, American businessman Milikowsky, returned the money to him later.
Milikowsky was also called to testify after Haaretz reported that Netanyahu had said during his interrogation that he had purchased cigars with cash he’d received from a family member. Netanyahu’s office said in response that “the prime minister’s cousin has been helping him for many years and that this was allowed, recognized and legal.”
According to information reaching Haaretz, Mendelblit is planning to allow Netanyahu to receive money from the two businessmen under certain restrictions, such as first sorting out potential conflict of interest issues. The Netanyahu family currently hires the services of five attorneys who represent the prime minister and his wife, Sara, who is suspected of fraud in the official residence case.
Public officials who have been prosecuted in the past, such as Arye Dery and Tzachi Hanegbi, raised money for their legal defense through nonprofit groups and financial funds. Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert also relied on tycoons for financing his legal defense. The most prominent one was businessman Rami Ungar, who said he’d donated 3 million shekels.
Hefetz torpedoes appointment of editor at Walla!
Haaretz has also learned further details regarding the involvement of state witness Nir Hefetz in arranging favorable reporting on the Walla! website for Netanyahu and his wife. Hefetz was a consultant to the two and was known as the person who transferred requests for biased coverage to the controlling shareholder at Bezeq, Shaul Elovitch, and to Walla!’s CEO Ilan Yeshua. Hefetz also sent Walla!’s editorial office sympathetic reports about Sara that were published in full, accompanied by photos he sent. Haaretz has learned that Hefetz intervened in appointments at Walla! and that the appointment of a chief editor was shot down due to Hefetz’s opposition.
In several cases Hefetz was asked if the appointment of a particular journalist would be acceptable to the Netanyahus. He said that in those cases he would consult with the prime minister and his wife and then give Walla! his recommendation.
The investigation of the Bezeq-Walla! file (Case 4000) is focusing on a period beginning at the end of 2014, when Netanyahu moved up the elections, and June 2015, when he approved a merger between Bezeq and Yes satellite TV, which greatly benefited Elovitch. In that period the pressure to give favorable reporting peaked at Walla! with Netanyahu’s personal intervention. Shortly after the merger was approved, as reported in Haaretz, Elovitch said he felt obligated to Netanyahu, since the prime minister was willing to “commit suicide” for him, and was working for Elovitch “against everyone.” Elovitch told investigators that he worried that negative news about Netanyahu or his wife would end the favorable treatment received by Bezeq. The director-general of the Ministry of Communications, Shlomo Filber, a Netanyahu appointee, was noted by Elovitch as someone who promoted Bezeq’s business at Netanyahu’s behest.