Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s valuable real estate holdings have become an issue in his ongoing battle against prosecution for alleged corruption.
Netanyahu’s request for authorization to raise $1 million in donations for his legal defense was rejected by the State Comptroller’s Office, citing his ownership of property believed to be worth in the neighborhood of $8.3 million (30 million shekels).
A statement from the Comptroller’s Office states, “The applicant’s (the prime minister) 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.”
Explaining at greater length, “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.”
They also dismissed the argument of Netanyahu’s lawyers that since the right to legal defense is constitutionally guaranteed, there must be a balance between the resources invested by the state, the investigative authorities, and the State Attorney’s Office in the investigation and prosecution, and the resources that ought to be available to their client.
The officials countered that such a balancing of resources was not a constitutional right. “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.”
The cost of retaining the prime minister’s team of five lawyers reportedly already amounts to an estimated 4 million shekels, and expected pre-trial hearings, which are likely to take several months, have not even begun.