PM blasts comptroller for denying access to funds for legal defense

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira is set to decide whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can accept donations from high-profile allies to pay for his legal defense in his corruption cases.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the State Comptroller on Sunday for denying him access to tycoon donor funds for his legal defense of the public corruption cases against him.
His lawyers threatened to take the issue to the High Court of Justice, calling "an unprecedented harm" of the prime minister's basic rights to finance his defense.
In light of Netanyahu's lawyers breaking the gag order on the decision and attacking the comptroller's rejection, State Comptroller released his decision on Sunday.
A special comptroller committee already rejected Netanyahu's request on November 29, but a mid-January statement by Shaira's office seemed to be ready to reconsider the decision based on new claims by Netanyahu's lawyers.
On February 4, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit ruled that 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.
The comptroller ruled that Netanyahu must return the $300,000 he already received without permission.
In mid-January, Shapira referred the issue to Mandelblit for legal consideration.
Netanyahu had informed Shapira that before hearing from the comptroller on November 29 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.