As PM’s lawyer quits, Netanyahu’s mentality revealed about who should pay

The crisis hits as Netanyahu has insisted that he should not have to pay much of his own legal fees to defend himself in his bribery trial.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The lead lawyer for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quit the team on Wednesday over concerns of his fees getting paid only 11 days before the bribery trial is due to restart.
Micha Fettman represented Netanyahu at the first hearing on May 24, but had only joined the legal team in recent months after several rounds of former Netanyahu lawyers resigned over similar concerns related to payment.
What do these latest developments say about Netanyahu’s mentality about who should pay his legal fees, especially in light of reports that he has a net worth of NIS 50 million?
Netanyahu’s remaining lawyer, Amit Hadad, has been part of the legal team since the start of the case.
The crisis hits as Netanyahu has insisted that he should not have to pay much of his own legal fees to defend himself in his bribery trial, but the State Comptroller Committee denied his request to have NIS 10 million in legal fees paid by tycoon ally Spencer Partrich.
First, the committee’s rejection was based on a legal opinion by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, who found that it would be a conflict of interest for Netanyahu to receive such large funds from Partrich, while he was still prime minister.
An additional reason for denying Netanyahu’s request to receive donations for his legal defense was that Partrich is due to be a fact witness in the upcoming trial.
Netanyahu has claimed he has a right for his funds to be paid through donations from tycoons like former prime minister Ehud Olmert did.
However, Mandelblit has responded that it was only legal for Olmert because he had resigned as prime minister and no longer had a conflict of interest through possessing public powers.
Mandelblit has also said that Netanyahu could receive a loan from Partrich and even previously approved an NIS 2 million loan.
But all of this may be beside the point.
At an earlier date, Netanyahu made the same request of a previous version of the comptroller committee (the members of the committee changed in mid-2019) and one reason they rejected his request was because he refused to disclose his full financial picture.
Reports that he is worth around NIS 50 million are based on the following calculations.
Netanyahu’s house in Caesarea, based on its 1.4 dunam area and accoutrements, is estimated at around NIS 20 million.
The prime minister also owns a house on Azza Street in Jerusalem which, based on its 240 square meter footage, is worth around NIS 10 million.
Further, Netanyahu owns half of a property on Haporsim Street in Jerusalem.
When Partrich bought the other half of the property in 2016, he paid a reported NIS 4.2 million.
One piece of Netanyahu’s financials which did arise from interactions with the earlier comptroller committee was his business dealing with his cousin Natan Milikovsky.
In a joint investment, Netanyahu invested $600,000 in 2007 and sold his portion of the investment for around $4.3 million in 2010.
When adding those four items together, one arrives at around NIS 50 million.
Netanyahu’s current income in terms of base salary as prime minister is NIS 56,345 per month of which he nets around NIS 28,000 per month after taxes.
Of course, that is not the end of the story.
The state funds massive amounts of expenses for the Netanyahu family both at the official Balfour Street residence and for their private Caesarea residence.
For example, the state pays for the Balfour Street residence’s real estate taxes, electricity, water, communications, gas, expensive meals, including an on-site chef as well as transportation and security expenses.
Reports have estimated the value of the taxes and utilities expense at between 10,000-20,000 per month, not even including the food, transportation and security expenses.
At the Caesarea residence, the state also funds a variety of food, utilities and upkeep. In 2015, the state paid NIS 298,000 for the year and since then his office has declined to provide updated details.
All of this means that in addition to being worth around NIS 50 million, Netanyahu is getting paid or being given by the state around NIS 1 million per year.
Netanyahu has said there is a major imbalance since the state has unlimited police investigators, prosecutors and funds, and that he will need NIS 10 million to mount a worthy legal defense.
If in fact Netanyahu’s legal expenses come to NIS 10 million as he has estimated, that would not be a small financial hit for him to take.
On the other hand, he would still be far from poor.
In fact, based on Forbes previous rankings, he might even maintain his ranking as the fourth most wealthy politician in Israel.
This is in contrast to private citizens who might be expected to mortgage their homes, borrow money from parents and radically alter their lifestyles to reduce their expenses if they needed to fund a significant legal case.
Further, as former state attorney Shai Nitzan said when responding to accusations that prosecutors had manufactured the case – the prosecution did not tell Netanyahu to accept inordinately expensive gifts, to meet secretly with Yediot Ahronot owner Arnon “Nuni” Mozes about an alleged bribery scheme or to take the actions he did on communications policy in favor of Bezeq.
Netanyahu admits he undertook all of these actions and merely disputes whether there was criminal intent.
So while Netanyahu may well be innocent of a crime, it cannot be disputed that his actions did bring suspicion to him which led to the case.
But admitting this would not only be a financial hit for Netanyahu.
It would also undermine his strategy to try to delegitimize the case against him.
If the case against him is illegitimate then why should he lose significant amounts of his wealth defending himself? That appears to be his mentality.
Also, he has used changing lawyers over the funding issue multiple times to delay the proceedings against him, such as the pre-indictment hearing, and he may try to do that again, asking to delay the July 19 hearing date.
Since his long-time lawyer Jacob Weinroth died in 2018, he has hired and dismissed Jacques Chen, Navot Tel Tzur, Yossi Ashkenazi, Ram Caspi and now Fettman.
With his mentality that someone else should pay, who knows how many more lawyers Netanyahu may go through if it may gain him some kind of tactical advantage?