A-G: Netanyahu to return legal defense funds if Comptroller disapproves

In mid-January, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira referred the issue to Mandelblit for legal consideration.

Netanyahu and Shapira (photo credit: REUTERS,MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Netanyahu and Shapira
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has ruled that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have to return $300,000 in legal defense funds if he does not get after-the-fact approval to keep the funds from the state comptroller.
In mid-January, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira referred the issue to Mandelblit for legal consideration.
Netanyahu had informed Shapira that before hearing from the comptroller that he could not receive donations from wealthy allies for his legal defense of public corruption cases, he had already received $300,000 from his cousin, tycoon Natan Milikovsky.
Though it appeared Netanyahu had hoped that having already received funds might give him a legal advantage, Mandelblit appeared to deflect that and flag it as a liability since he might need to return the funds.
The prime minister received the funds before a special state committee, connected to the comptroller’s office, had ruled that he is prohibited from receiving such funds and after he was given a preliminary sign-off by the Knesset, though the state committee is the final authority on the issue.
Shapira’s office issued a statement in mid-January that he referred the issue to Mandelblit because he was not sure if the attorney-general had been aware of the $300,000 when he had reviewed a variety of legal questions relating to the prime minister’s desire to get donations from rich individuals for his legal defense at a much earlier date.
The mid-January statement had not clarified whether Shapira believed that the prime minister had broken the law, though often that is implied by a referral to the attorney-general.
Even if Netanyahu should not have accepted the funds, it is not a foregone conclusion that he committed more than a general ethical violation.
Netanyahu’s lawyers are also seeking to appeal the state committee’s November 29 rejection of his request to receive millions in funds from Milikovsky and businessman Spencer Partridge.
On December 17, the comptroller office’s lawyer informed the Knesset that Netanyahu’s only path of appeal to try to receive donations from wealthy businessmen to fund his legal defense of bribery allegations would be to the High Court of Justice.
However, a statement by the comptroller in mid-January appeared to blur the issue, noting that Netanyahu’s appeal for the state committee to reconsider included new claims and facts, while avoiding delving into the question of whether the state committee would entertain an appeal.