Comptroller c'tee rejects PM's third request for tycoons to pay legal bills

As of Monday morning, the prime minister had not yet gotten Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit's permission, which Shapira conditioned his approval on.

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June 25, 2019 01:47
3 minute read.
THE FALSE narratives about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also make the establishment of a unity

THE FALSE narratives about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also make the establishment of a unity government with the Center-Left impossible. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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The State Comptroller Committee rejected on Monday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to have tycoon allies pay his legal defense bills in his public corruption cases for a third, and likely final time.

Netanyahu rapidly lashed out at the committee, saying it was not letting him have the same rights as prior ministers who received donations to pay for their defense of public corruption cases.

He also claimed that the committee had politicized the process and usurped or manufactured new authorities to block his rights which it did not legally have.

The committee responded almost as quickly, saying that Netanyahu’s case was unique because he is a serving prime minister. They said that all prior cases to which he alluded were involving former ministers, who resigned their posts once in legal trouble.

When they resigned their posts, they no longer had ongoing or current conflicts of interest to receive donations, the committee said.

In other words, the committee implied that Netanyahu is eligible to have his legal bills paid for him if he resigns, but must pay if he wants to stay in office where he theoretically could help the tycoons in return for money – which he has allegedly done in the past.

Despite the public fighting, the decision may be the beginning of the end of the final chapter to a more than half-year-long war over the issue. Alternatively, it may lead Netanyahu to try one of two avenues around the committee.

Netanyahu has already asked State Comptroller Joseph Shapira – who has some parallel but separate authorities to the committee, which is connected to his office – to approve a loan from tycoon Spencer Partridge.

As of Monday morning, the prime minister had officially asked for Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s permission, upon which Shapira conditioned his approval.

The Jerusalem Post has learned that there have been exchanges between officials connected with both sides, but Mandelblit will not make a decision without an official request. Shapira could approve a loan – since that is a different issue than the committee’s authority over approving payments to politicians with no obligation to repay.

The prime minister could also return to the High Court of Justice which heard the issue once before, but encouraged the sides to work it out.

The committee’s main sticking point is Netanyahu’s refusal to share his full financial picture, while he accuses the committee of wanting to leak it to the media.

One month ago, the committee extended its previous end-of-May deadline for Netanyahu to provide his financial disclosures.

Netanyahu has said that he is up against a prosecution and police establishment that have spent millions on probing him.

In an earlier exchange about his finances, after Netanyahu accused the committee of holding his legal defense hostage, the committee responded by publicizing investment links he had to tycoon and cousin Natan Milikovsky, which have raised the specter of a new potential criminal probe.

The current debate between Netanyahu and the committee comes following its previous two rejections of Netanyahu’s request.

The committee also previously told the prime minister to return $300,000 to donors, which he had received without the committee’s approval.

Now that the committee’s rejection is final, in principle, Netanyahu would need to repay the $300,000.

In practice, neither Shapira nor Mandelblit seem to have the desire to compel the prime minister to pay.

However, even the prior rejection led Netanyahu to file a petition in March with the High Court, which pressed the committee to further discuss the issue with Netanyahu.

Yet after further discussions, the committee said it would not let Netanyahu receive donations if he did not commit to spending a minimum amount of his own funds.

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