Netanyahu May Have to Pay Back Unauthorized Defense Funds, Israel's Attorney General Says

Netanyahu received $300,000 from his cousin to cover legal expenses without asking for approval from a state comptroller committee

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, February 3, 2019.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, February 3, 2019. Credit: Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must request retroactive approval for $300,000 he accepted from his cousin to defray his legal expenses in the corruption cases against him, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said Monday night.

Mendelblit said that if a state-comptroller panel examining possible conflicts of interest among ministers again turns down Netanyahu's request to raise money from wealthy patrons for legal fees, Netanyahu will have to return the money. 

The prime minister has already used these funds to pay his attorneys, who recently asked the committee to let the prime minister raise $2 million to cover his legal fees.

Haaretz has reported that Netanyahu received $300,000 to cover legal expenses from his cousin, Nathan Milikowsky, without the committee’s  approval.

Milikowsky was summoned to testify in the police's Case 1000, an investigation into the hundreds of thousands of shekels in gifts that Netanyahu received from wealthy individuals, after Netanyahu said he had purchased cigars with cash that Milikowsky had given him. The money Netanyahu received for his legal defense was transferred to lawyers representing him and his wife Sara.

The prime minister’s legal team has asked Mendelblit to allow him to solicit contributions for his legal defense from Milikowsky and American businessman Spencer Partrich. The latter also testified in Case 1000, confirming that he bought suits for Netanyahu worth tens of thousands of shekels for which he said Milikowsky paid him back.

Mendelblit told Netanyahu at the time that he saw no reason against the raising of the funds, but it had to be approved by the committee at the State Comptroller's Office.

The panel rejected the request, saying it would be improper for “tycoons to cover legal fees stemming from a criminal investigation including the suspicion of criminal activities involving tycoons.” It added that "funding like this can hurt the public's faith in the integrity of government representatives."