NGO asks High Court to block comptroller from approving tycoon loan to PM

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

July 3, 2019 05:52
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promises to do all he can to build a coalition in a press conferen

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promises to do all he can to build a coalition in a press conference Monday 27.05.2019. (photo credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON / FLASH 90)

The Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel filed a petition with the High Court of Justice on Tuesday to block the State Comptroller’s Office from approving a loan from tycoon Spencer Partridge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to help pay his legal defense of his public corruption cases.

The petition breaks into the open the fight between the state comptroller and a committee within his office over how to treat Netanyahu’s requests to have others help pay his bills.

On June 24, the State Comptroller Committee rejected 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 it did not legally have in order to block his rights.

The committee responded almost as quickly, saying that Netanyahu was unique because he is a serving prime minister. They said that all prior cases he wanted to cite to prove he was being mistreated were related to former ministers, who resigned their posts once in legal trouble.

Once 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 can get his legal bills paid for him if he resigns, but must pay if he wants to stay in office where he can help the tycoons in return for their money, and allegedly has in the past.

Despite the public fighting, the June 24 decision had seemed like 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’s decision.

One such avenue the prime minister could try would be to return to the High Court himself, since it had heard the issue once before, but encouraged the sides to work it out.

Alternatively, he could get an approval for a loan. Netanyahu had already asked outgoing State Comptroller Joseph Shapira – who has some parallel but separate authorities to the committee that is connected to his office – to approve a loan from Partridge.

Although the prime minister has reportedly not yet officially asked for Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s permission, which Shapira conditioned his approval on, The Jerusalem Post has learned that there have been exchanges between officials connected with both sides. Mandelblit will not make a decision without an official request.

Shapira’s office has maintained that it 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 Movement for the Quality of Government’s filing on Tuesday challenges this idea and says Shapira has overstepped his authority.

Asked whether the petition applies only to Shapira, who is stepping down Tuesday night, the NGO confirmed that the petition is against the State Comptroller’s Office – meaning it will also apply to Matanyahu Englman.

THE COMMITTEE’S main sticking point has been Netanyahu’s refusal to share his full financial picture with it, while the prime minister accuses the committee of wanting to leak his financials to the media.

In late May, the committee extended its previous deadline for Netanyahu to provide his financial disclosures.

Netanyahu has said 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 his cousin, tycoon Natan Milikovsky, which have raised the specter of a new potential criminal probe.

The entire current debate between Netanyahu and the committee comes following the committee’s 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.

With the committee’s rejection being 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, and Englman, viewed as even closer to Netanyahu, will now replace Shapira.

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