Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's defense team numbers five lawyers, namely Adv. Pinhas Rubin, chairperson of the Gornitzky & Co. law firm, who recently joined the team; team leader Adv. Navot Telzur; Judge (ret.) Oded Mudrik; Adv. Tal Shapira; and Adv. Amit Hadad.
Netanyahu's request for authorization to raise $1 million in donations for his legal defense until the Attorney General makes a decision on the outstanding cases against him reveals a small proportion of the amount that he is paying his defense lawyers (each according to his or her status). This apparently already totals NIS 4 million just for the initial stage of the criminal process.
A State Comptroller's Office committee has rejected Netanyahu's request to raise money through donations, as well as his legal representative's argument that "there is no conceptual distinction between permission for external aid for a wealthy minister and for a poor one; the same concern about a conflict of interests exists in both cases."
The State Comptroller's committee wrote, "We cannot accept this argument. The requested permission is personal and contingent on the requesting party's personal circumstances and the circumstances of the case. The justification for permission and its propriety in the eyes of the public certainly depend on the requesting party's economic standing. A wealthy minister should first finance his or her defense from his or her own independent resources, and even in the case of a minister who is not wealthy, in the first instance it should be examined whether he or she is incapable of providing the necessary financing from his or her own resources."
Concerning Netanyahu's economic situation, the decision states, "The applicant's (the prime minister, E. L.-W.) declaration of capital shows that the applicant is a wealthy man. He is therefore required to demonstrate, in accordance with the committee's previous decisions, that he has exhausted his ability to pay by himself before appealing for donations."
Another important argument used by Netanyahu's lawyers to justify accepting donations was that the right to legal defense is a constitutional right. They assert that there needs to be a balance or symmetry between the resources invested by the state, the investigative authorities, and the State Attorney's Office in the investigation of the various affairs and other proceedings, and the resources that ought to be available to Netanyahu.
The committee also dismissed this argument, writing, "No one disputes a person's constitutional right to a defense. However, when the investigative agencies and the State Attorney's Office are deployed because of alleged damage to values enshrined in law that justifies, in accordance with the public interest, the use of these agencies for the general good, there is never symmetry between the suspect or accused and the state authorities."
Netanyahu has already announced that he intends to petition the Supreme Court against the decision by the State Comptroller's committee, but what will happen if the Supreme Court dismisses his petitions?
Netanyahu is one of the wealthiest sitting prime ministers that Israel has ever had. The real estate that he owns is believed to be worth over NIS 30 million. His best-known property is his house in Caesarea, but he also owns a penthouse in Jerusalem and half of the value of another house in Jerusalem, which he inherited.
These properties are in addition to money that Netanyahu has accumulated over the years, which is believed to amount to millions of shekels. His income as prime minister is in addition to these amounts - his monthly salary is NIS 54,000.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 25, 2019
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