Watchdog to Probe Netanyahu Funding Over Bibi-Tours Allegations

Micha Lindenstrauss' announcement comes in wake of recent Channel 10 reports claiming PM did not report all campaign donations, allowed businessmen to pay for his travels.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss said on Thursday he would look into two recent reports according to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu illegally obtained campaign donations and travelled at the expense of private businessmen.

One report, released by Channel 10 earlier this week, claimed that Netanyahu accepted funding from private businessmen for trips for himself and his family while in public office.

Micha Lindenstrauss,Benjamin Netanyahu - GPO - 28/6/2010

The second report claimed that in 2005 Netanyahu had received private campaign donations without reporting all of them to the State Comptroller, as he is legally required.

In his announcement, coming at the end of a special meeting of the State Comptrollers' Office staff concerning the Channel 10 claims, Lindenstrauss indicated that his team would inspect Netanyahu's adherence to regulations concerning campaign donations, as well as claims concerning privately sponsored travel and dining.

The probe will be relatively limited one, however, because some of those allegedly involved in the affair, such as certain state officials and foreign citizens, do not fall under the State Comptroller's jurisdiction.

At this point the inspection will focus on the main claims revealed in the Channel 10 reports, with Lindenstrauss to rule whether or not to pursue further avenues of investigation.

Netanyahu responded for the first time to the Channel 10 allegations in an interview broadcasted on YouTube and Channel 2 on Wednesday, saying that the reports were "an orchestrated smear campaign."

"It's all sorts of stories, many of which are preposterous and tinged with hypocrisy. Some journalists don't like the fact that I'm prime minister and are trying to change that in their own way," the PM said, adding that "it won't help them."

"This is both cruel and hypocritical. I will remain here for many years and I will not change my positions," the premier said, adding that "nothing was financed illegally."

According to a report on Wednesday, the State Comptroller sought to receive the authority of a state investigative panel as he decides whether or not to investigate Netanyahu's travel funding.