Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said in his response to the High Court of Justice on Tuesday night that he had changed his position, and that $300,000 that was received by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from his cousin, businessman Nathan Milikowsky, constitute an illegal gift.
Haaretz revealed back in 2019 that Netanyahu raised $300,000 from Milikowsky to finance his legal defense without obtaining approval. The AG’s latest opinion means that Netanyahu has to return the money. However, the AG told the High Court that there’s no room for a criminal investigation into the matter.
It also appears from the attorney general’s response to the petition filed with the High Court regarding the PM’s cousin’s gift that he is critical of the State Comptroller’s decision to allow Netanyahu to receive a loan from his relative to help cover his legal expenses.
In response to petitions by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel and the Movement for Social Morality demanding that Netanyahu return the funding he received from his cousin, AG Mandelblit wrote that when he had allowed the receipt of the gift in 2018, Netanyahu was claiming that Milikowsky was his relative, and that’s why he was giving him the money.
However, Mandelblit ruled on Tuesday night that an examination of new materials shows that there are business ties between Netanyahu and his cousin, and therefore Milikowsky does not qualify as a mere relative offering a gift.
Mandelblit wrote that while at the time of the initial examination the debate focused on an application that stressed a concrete need in receiving a sum of money from a relative for the purpose of financing the legal expenses related to the criminal proceeding against Netanyahu, now the AG understands that the financial relationship between the two includes additional layers. This is because in the years 2010-2007 there was a significant business relationship between the two, at the peak of which Respondent One (Netanyahu) collected significant profits, which the Attorney General believes on the basis of administrative evidence that said profits resulted from the considerable benefits Netanyahu received from Milikowsky.
“According to the Attorney General, this indicates that there is another element in the relationship alongside the family attribute of assistance in a time of need, which was emphasized in the application.”
In 2019, Haaretz reported that Milikowsky denied in his testimony in the benefits case (Case 1000) that he and Netanyahu had business ties – despite the fact that it was recently discovered through the Permits Committee in the State Comptroller’s Office that the two held shares in the steel company SeaDrift Coke LLC, of which Milikowsky is the president.
According to senior sources involved in the details of the prime minister’s investigations, Milikowsky told police interrogators in April 2017 that his financial relationship with Netanyahu was based strictly on Milikowsky transferring thousands of dollars in cash to his cousin. According to those sources, Milikowsky was asked explicitly if he and Netanyahu had a business relationship and he denied it.
The original members of the Permits Committee determined that the money, which was obtained without its permission, constituted a benefit, and that the prime minister was required to return the funds to his cousin. However, after the new State Comptroller, Netanyahu Engelman, replaced the committee members, the new members approved the gift and ruled that the PM was not required to return the funds.
The Likud responded Tuesday night: “Is Mandelblit interfering in the election again? In the previous elections, Mandelblit filed a tailor-made indictment against the prime minister, and in this election, he is performing a flip-flop of his legal position while undermining the prime minister’s defense, just because the cases he tailored against him are collapsing.”
“There’s no limit to the persecution and the manhunt aimed at overthrowing a strong, rightwing prime minister.”