High Court to comptroller c'tee: Rethink forcing Netanyahu to pay for his own legal defense

Previously, the committee rejected Netanyahu's request to receive the donations and ordered him to return $300,000 to donors which he had received without the committee's approval.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, March 10th, 2019 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, March 10th, 2019
The High Court of Justice ruled that a special state comptroller committee must reconsider whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can receive donations from tycoons for his legal defense of public corruption charges.
Previously, the committee rejected Netanyahu’s request to receive the donations and ordered him to return $300,000 to donors, which he had received without the committee’s approval.
This led Netanyahu to file a petition with the High Court last week to overturn the committee’s decision.
The High Court’s ruling was an interim victory for Netanyahu, though the committee’s lawyer said afterward that the committee would not let Netanyahu receive donations if he did not commit to spending a minimum amount of his own funds.
Moreover, the committee’s lawyer said that until now, Netanyahu had refused to contribute even a shekel of his personal funds to his own defense.
The impression from the justices was that they wanted both sides to back down some, such that if Netanyahu finally offered to spend a reasonable amount of his own funds, the committee might agree to also let him get help from donors.
Justice Menachem Mazuz said that, “this is an important and sensitive enough issue that it is important to explore all of the claims so that no one will say they did not get to make all of their claims.”
Netanyahu’s lawyers had criticized the committee for not giving them an additional round of oral arguments, whereas the committee saw no reason to, as long as Netanyahu would not discuss how much of his own personal funds he would chip in.
The $300,000 in donations he had already received and which is also in dispute was from his cousin, the tycoon Natan Milikovsky.
In addition, a lawyer for the comptroller revealed on Sunday that committee chairman Oni Havash had asked to resign due to political pressures from the media coverage of the issue. State Comptroller Joseph Shapira now must decide whether to accept the resignation.
After the committee’s February ruling rejecting Netanyahu’s request, the prime minister called the decision “unprecedented,” saying it “harmed fundamental rights” that all citizens possess to legally finance defending themselves.
In addition, the rejection came following a November 29 decision by the committee that had already rejected Netanyahu’s request. The February decision was a redo after Netanyahu’s lawyers claimed that there had been a major change in circumstances.
In his petition, he implied that he was being picked on by the committee because he was prime minister and wealthy.
He argued that just as poor people should not be undermined from making a full legal defense, powerful people – such as himself – should not be blocked from making such a defense, including by getting financial help that is given voluntarily.
On February 28, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit announced an intent to indict Netanyahu for bribery in three different public corruption affairs.
Another aspect of February’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 “Submarines 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-Milikovsky business interests. The statement called them irrelevant and deemed media reports trying to connect dots between Netanyahu and Case 3000 to be “fake news.” However, Mandelblit has now opened an initial review of the issue.