Netanyahu's legal woes: Calls to investigate gifts, PM drivers reinstated

According to the 1979 Public Service Gifts Law, gifts of high value given to public servants become possessions of the state.

 Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu waves as he addresses his supporters at his party headquarters during Israel's general election in Jerusalem, November 2, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu waves as he addresses his supporters at his party headquarters during Israel's general election in Jerusalem, November 2, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)

Three men removed from their positions as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s drivers must be reinstated as they are state witnesses in his ongoing corruption trials and their removal might constitute a conflict of interest, according to an interim order issued by the Jerusalem Labor Court.

The court noted that Deputy Attorney-General Dr. Gil Limon had called on January 11 for the men to be reassigned to their roles, but the Prime Minister’s Office has not yet complied.

The PMO has said that the men, who served as drivers through nine prime ministerial terms, had not been removed because of their status as state witnesses. The N12 news site reported that the official reason was because they had worked for former prime ministers Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid.

On Thursday, Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara announced that a conflict of interest agreement organized by her predecessor Avichai Mandelblit in 2020 was still in effect. The agreement, which conditioned Netanyahu’s forming of his government, restricted him from deliberately undertaking actions that would influence or impact the witnesses in his corruption trial.

On Friday, reports said the A-G’s office was considering declaring Netanyahu unfit to serve as prime minister because the judicial reforms proposed at the beginning of January violated the provisions of the conflict-of-interest agreement that restricted him from appointing law enforcement and legal officials. Baharav-Miara dismissed these reports as false.

 Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference with Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich (unseen) at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2023. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference with Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich (unseen) at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2023. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Netanyahu faced further legal troubles on Wednesday when the Movement of Quality Government NGO petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding that the prime minister be investigated for a veritable treasure trove of gifts from world leaders that he received during his previous term and didn’t turn over to the state.

The High Court answered the petition soon after it was filed, giving the prime minister until March 26 to submit responses.

The alleged missing gifts include a golden eagle statue given by a US president, a gold coin from a pope, a porcelain dove from the president of Finland, a Japanese cloisonné jar from the Japanese ambassador, a Bible with commentary of famed medieval scholar Rashi, and a glass box festooned by gold leaves by artist Stephen Schlanser. The movement valued the gifts in the millions of shekels.

In response to a freedom of information request used to compile the list of gifts, the Prime Minister’s Office reportedly said it had attempted to return the gifts. Netanyahu had previously been ordered to return the gifts, but they had reportedly been broken or lost, according to the NGO.

“The gifts that Netanyahu received belong to the public. He did not receive them as a private person but as our representative and we insist that he return them,” said movement attorney Hidi Negev.

Negev accused law enforcement of ignoring the crime and stalling in addressing it. The NGO called upon the attorney-general to explain why the office had failed to enforce the restitution of what it said was state property according to the Gifts Law.

Why can't Bibi keep these gifts?

According to the 1979 Public Service Gifts Law, gifts of high value given to public servants become possessions of the state.

"It should be mentioned that Netanyahu has a record in this field,” said Negev. “In 1999, a criminal investigation was opened against him, and after the police raided his home and found gifts received during his tenure as prime minister, they recommended that he be prosecuted on suspicion of the crime of theft by an authorized person.”

The case was closed and a report was issued by the Attorney-General’s Office about the incident.

Netanyahu is also accused of accepting and even requesting gifts such as champagne and cigars in Case 1000. In what has been dubbed the “Illegal Gifts Affair,” the prime minister allegedly accepted gifts in return for favors to a wealthy businessman.