Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said Thursday he would not launch a criminal investigation into alleged financial improprieties by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he was opposition leader.
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Weinstein said there were insufficient grounds to launch such a probe. The allegations over Netanyahu’s travel expenses, known as the “Bibi-Tours” affair, were first exposed by Channel 10 television nearly three and a half years ago.
Weinstein said he adopted the opinion of the police, Jerusalem prosecutors and the state prosecutor to end his investigation.
“There is no real chance that additional investigations, even a criminal investigation, would produce sufficient findings to lead to a trial due to the long time since the events happened,” Weinstein said.
The investigation dealt with two of Netanyahu’s trips abroad. In August 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, Netanyahu, his wife Sara and one of their sons traveled to London on a trip funded by the Knesset and Israel Bonds. The following month, two organizations paid for a single trip by the Netanyahus to New York, in what appeared to be double-billing.
Netanyahu responded to the allegations through his attorney, David Shimron. He said the Knesset funded his flight to London, while Israel Bonds covered his wife’s travel expenses but wrote the receipt under Netanyahu’s name.
Regarding the New York trip, Netanyahu said two receipts were issued by one organization that accidentally issued one receipt under a wrong name. According to Netanyahu, a receipt was canceled at the organization’s request and a new one was issued bearing the organization’s right name.
The allegations were first examined by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, but his successor, Joseph Shapira, ruled that the matter did not fall under his authority, and the case was taken up by the attorney general.
Weinstein appointed Uri Corb of the Jerusalem Prosecutor’s Office; Corb was the main prosecutor in the trial of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
In his decision, Weinstein also accepted the claim that there was not enough evidence that Netanyahu was aware that cash had been given by businessman Dedi Graucher to Netanyahu’s driver in 2008, when Netanyahu was still opposition leader.
Graucher and the driver gave conflicting versions of the incident, which contradicted additional testimony. It turned out that money was indeed transferred while Netanyahu was at a meeting in his office, but the sum only amounted to several hundred dollars.
In any case, Weinstein said he did not find “evidence that Netanyahu was involved in the incident, or that he was aware of it.” He added that “insufficient evidence was found to suggest that those involved had committed a criminal offense.”
Weinstein noted that Shimron, Netanyahu’s attorney, failed to answer several questions during the investigation, among them who organized Netanyahu’s trips abroad via a travel agency.
Weinstein said the woman employed in that capacity was questioned during the state comptroller’s probe and testified that Graucher had covered Netanyahu’s travel expenses during two trips to New York: one in September 2006 and one in November that year.
But when questioned by the police, she retracted her testimony and said Graucher had not funded the September excursion.
Graucher said he was indeed involved in Netanyahu’s invitation to New York but that although he paid for Netanyahu’s expenses, he was reimbursed by the organization that invited the prime minister. Graucher presented receipts that supported his testimony.
Haaretz reported on the strong ties between Shimron and State Comptroller Shapira about a year ago. Shimron had demanded that Shapira's predecessor Lindenstrauss take the "Bibi Tours" file away from Nachum Levy, the state comptroller's adviser on corruption.
Shimron also argued that ethical lapses by Knesset members were the province of the Knesset Ethics Committee, not the comptroller, and that since Netanyahu was an MK at the time of the alleged offenses, the file must be taken out of the comptroller's hands.
Levy believed that the file against Netanyahu raised suspicions of criminal offenses, and recommended that the evidence be sent on to the attorney general. But two months later Shapira transferred the file to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, effectively embracing Shimron's argument.