Police Quiz Top Official Over Financial Irregularities at PM’s Residences

Ezra Saidoff questioned under caution about allegedly hiring a Likud activist to do electrical work at the Netanyahus’ homes.

Olivier Fitoussi

A high-ranking official from the Prime Minister’s Office was questioned under caution by the police Sunday, on suspicion of hiring an electrician to work at the prime minister’s residences in violation of regulations.

Ezra Saidoff, the deputy director general for material and operational resources, is considered a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. He is currently the chief suspect, and the highest-ranking one, in the police investigation into suspected financial irregularities at the prime minister’s residences.

Saidoff is suspected of hiring Avi Fahima to do work at both the Netanyahus’ private home in Caesarea and the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, despite Fahima being an activist in Netanyahu’s Likud Party and after a panel, headed by the legal adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office, ordered Saidoff not to employ him.

In an affidavit submitted earlier to both the police and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, Saidoff denied having done anything wrong and insisted his sole goal had been to reduce maintenance expenditures. But after examining both the affidavit and the police’s preliminary findings, Weinstein ordered a full-scale criminal investigation into the matter.

The investigation was originally sparked by a report last February by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira into spending at the prime minister’s residences, as well as additional material amassed by the comptroller that was not included in the report but was passed on to the attorney general. This material raised suspicions that the state was paying for some of the Netanyahus’ personal expenditures.

Last month, police questioned Fahima about his work at the residences – which mainly took place at the Caesarea home – and, especially, the hours when he worked. Saidoff had claimed Fahima was needed to perform urgent repairs after hours or on weekends, when regular employees of the Prime Minister’s Office were unavailable, and he was paid accordingly. Thus, police sought to determine whether Fahima’s own records of the hours he worked matched Saidoff’s records.