Ex-state Comptroller: Netanyahu's Request to Let Tycoon Friends Fund Legal Defense 'Improper'

Joseph Shapira says that the premier has been ignoring him since he published his report on misuse of public funds at the PM's residence

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State Comptroller Joseph Shapira at an award ceremony in Tel Aviv, June 12, 2019.
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira at an award ceremony in Tel Aviv, June 12, 2019. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Former State Comptroller Joseph Shapira said in an interview published Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to receive funding for his legal defense from friends and relatives was improper.

“Everyone can try to ask for help in receiving funding,” but the way it looks also matters, said Shapira in interviews with Israeli newspapers Maariv and Yedioth Ahronoth.

“Not everything that is good and proper is also appropriate under certain circumstances, certainly not when it concerns the prime minister,” he added.

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Shapira, who was replaced this week by the new state comptroller, Matanyahu Englman, also told interviewers about Netanyahu’s request to receive a loan of a few million shekels – at normal commercial interest rates and terms – from billionaire Spencer Partrich, which was revealed by Haaretz.

The request, which was submitted to Shapira in the last days of his term, was an attempt to bypass the permits committee of the State Comptroller’s Office to approve Netanyahu’s request to accept millions of dollars from Partrich and the premier's cousin Nathan Milikowsky to fund his legal costs. The request was refused three times.

Shapira said he was willing to discuss the request under two conditions: First, that the loan would be given under market conditions, and second that Netanyahu had no conflicts of interest concerning Partrich. The second condition is under the responsibility of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.

Shapira said he could not rule out in advance Netanyahu’s request for funds, but had reservations about how it looked. “Even if we assume that the request was justified, when it concerns a senior official such as a judge and certainly the prime minister, it is customary to say noblesse oblige. But everyone has their own character and nature. As a judge, I would not have dared to ask for loans or aid even if it was a close friend.”

Since Shapira released his report on the expenses at the prime minister’s residence, which led to Netanyahu’s wife Sara signing a plea deal on charges of aggravated fraud, fraud and breach of trust, the prime minister has cut off all contact with Shapira, he said. “Since the report, the prime minister has stopped speaking to me, has not said hello to me and does not even keep in contact by telephone with me,” Shapira told Maariv. The former state comptroller told Yedioth that Netanyahu has ignored him at conferences and at gatherings and looks away from him.

One day, while he was working on his report, Netanyahu called him at home and screamed at him in anger, Shapira said. “I put the call on the speaker and [Eli Marzel, deputy director of the State Comptroller’s Office] who heard the shouting, told Netanyahu: ‘Mr. Prime Minister, you cannot shout at the comptroller in such a manner.’ Since then he has ignored me and the discussion down the line were conducted in a business-like manner.”