Netanyahu and Shapira.
(photo credit: REUTERS,MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A special State Comptroller committee ruled on Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must return $300,000 in donations for his legal defense to cousin and tycoon Natan Milikovsky.
The decision included a broader ruling that Netanyahu cannot receive donations from tycoons to fight the public corruption charges against him – which is why he must return the funds he received without approval.
Netanyahu said the decision was “unprecedented and harmed fundamental rights” that all citizens possess to finance legal defense costs.
He also threatened to challenge the committee’s ruling before the High Court of Justice.
The dizzying developments unfolded in rounds throughout the day and left many question marks.
At first, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira merely announced to the media that he had sent his decision to Netanyahu, giving the prime minister until Tuesday to respond, and placing a gag order on the decision in the meantime.
But shortly after when Netanyahu attacked the decision publicly, it became apparent that the committee had rejected Netanyahu’s request.
This led the comptroller to release the full decision a couple hours later.
However, as of press time, the State Comptroller’s Office has not responded to inquiries about whether there is a deadline for Netanyahu to return the $300,000, which suggests there is none.
The lack of a deadline could lead to continued litigation over the issue, depending on how long Netanyahu delays the repayment.
Meanwhile, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel sent a letter to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, demanding that he make Netanyahu return the funds within two weeks.
Although Netanyahu’s spokesman said that he would challenge the ruling in the High Court, repeated questions from The Jerusalem Post about the timing of such a challenge have not been responded to.
Netanyahu's defense lawyers have threatened to go to the High Court in the past for other issues related to his legal problems, but have never actually followed up on the threat.
It is far from clear that the High Court would intervene to contradict the comptroller’s office on an issue regarding public corruption, which appears to be firmly within its discretion.
In addition, the rejection came following a November 29 decision by the committee that had already rejected Netanyahu’s request.
While Netanyahu’s legal team later claimed that it had new facts to share with the committee, the Sunday decision indicated that the new facts relating to the $300,000 already received merely made him vulnerable to having to return those funds.
The prime minister had received a preliminary sign-off by the Knesset for receiving the donations to his legal defense, but the state committee is the final authority on the issue.
Another aspect of Sunday’s decision mentioned that Netanyahu and Milikovsky had joint business interests up until 2009, including Netanyahu’s early months as prime minister.
Furthermore, the decision connected Milikovsky indirectly to Thyssenkrupp and to David Shimron.
Thyssenkrupp is the German company wrapped up with the Case 3000 Submarine Affair and Shimron, a lawyer and relative of both Netanyahu and Milikovsky, is suspected of facilitating bribery in the affair.
Though the prime minister is not a suspect in Case 3000, his spokesman issued a statement attacking the comptroller for mentioning the 10-year-old Netanyahu and Milikovsky business interests. The statement called the business ties irrelevant and deemed media reports trying to connect dots between Netanyahu and Case 3000 to be “fake news.”
To date, there has been no discussion of Netanyahu having committed a crime by receiving the $300,000, only that he must return the funds.
The impact of being forbidden from receiving donations for his legal defense will have on Netanyahu’s posture toward the multiple public corruption cases he is facing is unclear.
Mandelblit is expected to announce an intent to indict Netanyahu for bribery in the coming weeks and before the upcoming election.
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