Israel Police’s national fraud squad began taking testimony from close associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent weeks regarding alleged financial improprieties over travel expenses, otherwise known as the “Bibi-Tours” affair, Channel 10 reported Sunday night.
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Police officials say they are completing a probe to establish whether there is a basis for launching a criminal investigation. The findings will be given to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who will decide whether to proceed with an investigation. The people who came to testify were not questioned under caution, according to the report.
The “Bibi-Tours” affair began with an investigative report in 2011 by Channel 10’s current affairs program, Hamakor, which claimed that the Netanyahus had received funding from two different sources for a single trip to the United States in September 2006, amounting to a double-billing. It was also claimed that in August 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, a trip to London taken by Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara and one of their sons was doubly funded by both the Knesset and by Israel Bonds. Donors also allegedly funded other trips of the Netanyahus abroad.
In December 2012, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira gave the part of the “Bibi-Tours” report about the trips Netanyahu took while he was a Knesset member to the attorney general for examination. Attorney Uri Korb of the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office, who was the prosecutor in the trial of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, was put in charge of the file.
The state comptroller explained his decision by saying that he had no authority to investigate members of Knesset. This was despite the position of his predecessor, Micha Lindenstrauss, who, after Channel 10’s expose, put Nahum Levy, the state comptroller’s special adviser on corruption, in charge of the investigation. After the investigation, Levy recommended that the findings be given to the attorney general, since alleged criminal activity had been discovered. After Shapira began his term as state comptroller, he claimed that Levy had acted without authority and that his findings “did not have much meat on them.” In the end, Levy was dismissed from his position.
Korb is supposed to decide whether he will order judicial inquiries abroad, since some of the people who funded the trips are businessmen who live overseas. Korb’s investigation, which has been going on for eight months, is still dealing with the factual basis of the affair, in order to establish whether or not a criminal investigation is warranted.
A spokesman for the Justice Ministry said, “As stated and reported in the past, a probe of the matters connected to the prime minister’s trips during his term as a Knesset member is in progress. Beyond that, we have no further details at this time."