A-G to committee: No NIS 10m. for Netanyahu from tycoon to pay legal bill

In February, a new comptroller committee, viewed by observers as more friendly to Netanyahu than the previous panel, held hearings on the issue.

Avicahi Mandelblit (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Avicahi Mandelblit
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Tuesday told the comptroller committee it should not approve Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for up to NIS 10 million of his legal fees in his public corruption trial to be funded by American tycoon ally Spencer Partridge.
Mandelblit said it was not permitted mostly because of the amount and the long-term political-businessman relations that Netanyahu and Partridge have, as opposed to just being close friends.
In response, a source close to Netanyahu said: “The more the improper actions of the attorney-general are revealed on tape, the more he continues his scandalous persecution of the prime minister and the Right.”
“The conflict of interest of the attorney-general screams to high heaven,” the source said. “On the one hand, he issues ideas against the prime minister, and on the other, he does everything to harm the prime minister’s defense.”
Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz responded by giving full support to Mandelblit’s decision and all law-enforcement authorities.
“They will continue to do their job without fear and with professionalism and determination,” he said. “We formed the government in light of the coronavirus, and that is what it will deal with.”
Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn said: “Mandelblit does not persecute anyone; he does his job. An attack on the ‘gatekeepers’ harms democracy, and the weakening of democracy will harm the rights of every citizen in the State of Israel.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid said: “The wild incitement of the prime minister against the attorney-general and the rule of law continues. This will end in blood. Whoever is silent and gives it legitimacy is responsible.”
In February, a new comptroller committee, viewed by observers as more friendly to Netanyahu than the previous panel, held hearings on the issue.
Eventually, the committee requested that Mandelblit give his view before it reaches a decision.
The committee also had asked if Partridge’s role as a fact witness, however minor, in the upcoming bribery trial pending against Netanyahu was an issue.
Mandelblit noted this issue on Tuesday, but he gave the relationship issue more significance.
The panel had grabbed headlines when it agreed to rehear the issues, even though the previous committee under the previous comptroller had rejected the exact same request multiple times.
Mandelblit and State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman authorized Netanyahu in September 2019 to receive a NIS 2m. loan from Partridge. But on Tuesday, Mandelblit said that a donation of NIS 10 million was different than a loan for only NIS 2 million.
The previous comptroller committee denied Netanyahu’s request for having his legal defense funded by tycoons on three separate occasions due to concerns about his refusal to make certain financial disclosures as well as the picture of getting money from tycoons to defend charges for his allegedly receiving illegal gifts from tycoons.
The Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel has petitioned the High Court of Justice to argue the committee was in Netanyahu’s pocket and could not retract its previous rulings against him. But the High Court has preferred to stay out of the issue.
The most recent rejection of Netanyahu’s request for help from tycoons came in June 2019.
At the time, Netanyahu lashed out at the prior committee, saying it was not letting him have the same rights as previous ministers who received donations to pay for their defense in public corruption cases. He also claimed the committee had politicized the process and usurped or manufactured new authorities to block his rights, which it did not legally have.
The previous committee responded quickly, saying Netanyahu was unique because he is a serving prime minister. It said all prior cases he wanted to cite to prove he was being mistreated were related to former ministers who resigned their posts once they got into legal trouble. Once those ministers 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 if he resigns, but he must pay if he wants to stay in office. The implication is that he can help the tycoons in return for their money, and allegedly he has in the past.
Part of the dispute between Netanyahu and the previous committee was the prime minister’s refusal to fully reveal his financial situation and ability to self-fund his defense.
But by July 2019, Englman, viewed as close to Netanyahu, had replaced former comptroller Joseph Shapira. Shortly after that, Englman replaced the comptroller committee as well.
Significant media coverage has shown connections between new committee members and the Likud, with some new members even resigning but most weathering the criticism. Englman has rejected any notion that he or the committee favor Netanyahu.
The new committee said it was not bound by the previous three rulings of the same committee because it is an administrative panel and not a court.
The new committee said circumstances have substantially changed since June 2019, namely, in November 2019, the indictment against Netanyahu was filed, and he must now imminently pay to defend himself at trial in a case that has more than 1,000 binders of evidence.
In an earlier exchange about his finances, after Netanyahu accused the previous 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 potential new criminal probe.
The committee also previously told the prime minister to return to donors $300,000 he had received without the committee’s approval.