State Comptroller given expanded authority ahead of decision on Netanyahu probe
Lindenstrauss had requested the right to call witnesses and gather certain documents, as he prepares to decide what direction to take with regard to allegations against premier.
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on Wednesday asked the State Control Committee to instill him with the authority of a panel of inquiry, as it nears its decision on whether to open an investigation into allegations that Prime Minister Benjamin accepted improper private funding.
Lindenstrauss asked that the Knesset committee empower Nahum Levy, adviser for the prosecution of public corruption in the State Comptroller's Office, with powers suited to the head of an investigation commission.
The intention is for Levy, who will apparently head an investigation team, to have the authority to summon witnesses, and demand that they furnish documents.
Lindenstrauss made his request in light of the fact that the Knesset earlier in the day took spring recess.
Lindenstrauss will convene a special meeting Thursday of a team of senior officials from the State Comptroller's Office who in past days have investigated various aspects of the Bibi-Tours affair. Participants in the meeting will discuss the possible scope and character of a review of the affair.
Officials in the Comptroller's Office are concerned about technical problems connected to this investigation. Many of the persons possibly implicated in the affair are foreigners, and persons who cannot be subject to any critique formulated by Lindenstrauss. These are persons who cannot be summoned as witnesses, or compelled to supply documents.
Lindenstrauss earlier Wednesday deemed it inappropriate for public officials to travel at the expense of private donors, mid the public concerning allegations against Netanyahu.
Channel 10 reported last week that the prime minister allegedly continued to accept private sponsorship for flights even after he returned to politics as a member of Knesset and finance minister in 2003.
One issue facing the comptroller's expected probe until now that many of the officials named in the Channel 10 expose did not fall under the jurisdiction of the State Comptroller's Office, which could create a difficulty in gathering evidence.
Responding publicly to the allegations for the first time on Wednesday, Netanyahu said the reports were part of "orchestrated and organized slander campaign" against him.
"We're talking about all kinds of stories, most of them baseless and contaminated by hypocrisy. There are journalists that do no like that I am prime minister and are trying in their way to change that," Netanyahu said, in an interview that was broadcast on Channel Two and on YouTube, in which he answered recorded questions from web surfers all over the world.
"I want to let those journalists know: It won't help you any, it's malicious and its hypocritical and I will be here for many years and I won't change my positions. Nothing was funded illegally," Netanyahu continued.
Netanyahu contended that the media treats him with a double-standard, and that other prime ministers, presidents, ministers, and members of Knesset acted in the exact same way.
"It's infected by hypocrisy, because every year there are hundreds of trips by members of Knesset, ministers and former prime ministers.
There is a standard for trips. The standard for previous prime ministers and previous presidents is acceptable, and is no different from Clinton or Blair," Netanyahu said. "Others did not fly charter or stay at youth hostels."
Netanyahu denied that his trips were funded by foreign businessmen. "I was not invited by donors or private individuals. It's all distorted," Netanyahu emphasized.
"Why? You don't fly to a private function, you fly to public functions by groups that want to help Israel, or the poor, or immigrants. It's not for private use. These are not private trips," Netanyahu said. "Who will pay for them? Donors. Who funds the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel's Soldiers? Donors."
According to Netanyahu, the Channel 10 investigation and the media's dwelling on the story is an attempt to harm him. "The truth will come out," he said. "You cannot hold me to a double-standard. Everyone traveled with their wives. The worst part is that in order to harm me, they automatically aim for my wife, threateningly and unfairly."
"Many journalists and many journals. As this poison spreads, my wife Sara is a child psychologist and goes into schools, goes to work, help kids in need," Netanyahu added. "The mothers and the children love her. And her colleagues ask her, 'Sara! What are they doing to you?'"