NETANYAHU AFTER the late-night vote..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have finally found a way to avoid, or at least delay, paying for his own public corruption legal defense bills.
For months he has fought to no avail with the State Comptroller committee, which has the authority to approve public officials’ special requests to receive contributions from the private sector.
The committee has insisted that Netanyahu pay a large share of his bills and reveal his full financial details before it will even consider the request.
The entire dispute has been made more complicated by Netanyahu’s attempts until now to receive contributions from his cousin, tycoon Natan Milikovsky, who may be linked to Case 3000, the Submarine Affair, and other legal issues.
The prime minister has also been on the defensive because receiving contributions from tycoons is exactly what he may be indicted for in Case 1000, and it overlaps with some of the themes in the other cases against him as well.
The committee had given Netanyahu until Monday to give them his full financial disclosure documents or it will reject his request a third time. After it previously rejected his requests, the High Court of Justice asked the committee to reconsider the issue if Netanyahu made financial disclosures.
Netanyahu has refused to make new disclosures after previous ones led to embarrassing news stories in the media about his and Milikovsky’s possible connections to Case 3000, including that the police initially probed the issue.
So how may the prime minister finally have resolved his problem?
He has changed four key parameters. It was reported on Wednesday that he is now asking for a loan instead of a contribution. The loan would need to include market-rate interest rather than being interest free.
Milikovsky is out of the picture, and the new candidate to help him financially is tycoon Spencer Partridge.
The fourth change is that Netanyahu is asking State Comptroller Joseph Shapira for approval instead of the committee.
The committee has authority over receiving gifts, but Shapira may approve the receipt of loans. Shapira all along has had a more favorable view of Netanyahu pursuing this path than the committee, so going to Shapira diminishes the committee’s significance.
Shapira set two conditions: that the loan be at market rates; and that the attorney-general approve the loan as not involving a conflict of interest.
Surprisingly, to date, Netanyahu has not asked the attorney-general to approve the idea.
It is unclear if he fears that the attorney-general will not approve the idea, or that now that he has a way to avoid Monday’s deadline with the committee, he is no longer in a rush to resolve the situation.
Either way, the development could be highly significant.
If Netanyahu was forced to start paying his bills, he might feel more pressure to cut a plea bargain.
From this perspective, receiving the loan will free him to defend the case indefinitely without having to cut a deal.
Another scenario is that he is planning to eventually cut a deal, so he does not want to spend his own money in his defense.
In either case, no one has said there would be a specific deadline for Netanyahu to pay back the loan, which could be a way for him to still flip the process in his favor.
When Netanyahu paid back loans to Milikovsky in the past, it appears that the two concocted side arrangements such that Netanyahu’s loan “payments” were really additional funds Milikovsky had arranged for him to receive through stock sales.
Netanyahu will soon need to act or else he might miss this latest option. If he misses this opportunity, he could be in for another legal crisis just as the campaign for the September 17 election kicks into high gear.
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