Watchdog to Reopen Inquiry Into Cost of Netanyahu’s Trip to Japan

The Netanyahus spent two days touring Kyoto, two and a half hours by train from Tokyo, but the family flew there on a 767.

Uri Misgav
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in Japan, May 2014.Credit: AFP
Uri Misgav

The State Comptroller's Office is reopening an inquiry into Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Japan last year, amid questions about whether the state improperly paid for touring by the prime minister’s wife and sons, the office has told Haaretz.

The investigation comes at a bad time for Netanyahu, two weeks before an election and amid allegations of overspending at the prime minister’s official residence.

In early May, Netanyahu, accompanied by his wife and two sons, arrived in Japan on what officials described as an “economic work visit.” The director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Harel Locker, was also on hand.

Sources in the entourage said the visit was designed to “increase ties between the countries and promote bilateral economic relations,” but the delegation did not include Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett or Tourism Minister Uzi Landau.

Nor was Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz invited, despite the stellar reputation of Tokyo’s subway and the fact that Japanese companies have been considered for work on Tel Aviv’s planned light-rail system. The delegation did not include Israeli entrepreneurs doing business with Japan.

After criticism appeared in the media, the Prime Minister’s Office said the Netanyahus would pay for their sons’ travel expenses. A chartered El Al Boeing 767 was fitted with beds and a shower.

The Netanyahus spent two days touring Kyoto, two and a half hours by train from Tokyo, but the Netanyahus flew there on the 767 after their Japanese hosts refused a request to use an entire train “for security reasons.” The Japanese offered to put an entire train car at the Israelis’ disposal – an arrangement previously used for the pope, U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron — but the proposal was rejected.

A week after the trip, an Israeli businessman with ties to Japan sent a letter to the State Comptroller’s Office asking questions about the costs and nature of the visit. The businessman later met with officials at the comptroller’s office.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira has even ordered an inquiry by senior agency officials who deal with corruption, a spokesman for the office said.

He said the complainant would meet with the comptroller’s special adviser, former police commander Amichai Shay, over the allegations. The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a request for comments.