Bibi-tours: Two Trees, but How Big Was the Forest?

The attorney general’s decision not to probe the so-called 'Bibi-tours’ affair, over allegations of double-billing for overseas trips by Benjamin Netanyahu, raises yet more questions.

Ido Baum
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Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Ido Baum

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein’s decision last week not to investigate the so-called “Bibi-tours” affair is, in some sense, the opposite of the decision to close the straw-companies affair in the matter of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Some say the straw-companies probe was closed because Weinstein instructed that the key witness in the affair be re-questioned a third time, until she finally recanted. With “Bibi-tours,” instead of probing and digging, Weinstein stopped – perhaps too soon.

People who might doubt the purity of the intentions of Weinstein – known for his close ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – would find it difficult to doubt the recommendation of the State Prosecutor’s Office not to pursue an investigation in this case, as expressed by attorney Uri Korev. Korev was the prosecutor in the first trial of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which has recently been reopened in the Jerusalem District Court.

Thanks to Olmert, Korev has become an expert in matters of travel and double-billing. He intensely examined the financing of Netanyahu’s travels, not giving up until he received answers and documents from David Shimron, Netanyahu’s attorney. At one point, the probe became more complex than Korev could handle alone, and it was decided to move it to the police investigations division.

The attorney general’s probe was incorporated into the probe by the then-State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss into ministers’ travels abroad. In this context, the comptroller received information about the ultra-Orthodox singer and businessman Dedi Graucher, who is an important figure in this instance.

The state comptroller informed the attorney general that Graucher was seen giving hundreds of dollars to Netanyahu’s driver outside Netanyahu’s office at the Tel Aviv Likud headquarters. But there is no evidence that Netanyahu knew about this incident, nor was any criminal offense uncovered. So why did Graucher and the driver give stories that were “to some extent conflicting,” as Weinstein put it? The attorney general decided not to investigate.

Separate from this incident, Korev’s probe focused on claims of falsification of receipts and double or overfunding of two of Netanyahu’s trips. Odelia Carmon, whose name was given to the prosecution by the state comptroller, was Netanyahu’s travel coordinator – the equivalent of Rachael Risby-Raz in Olmert’s “Rishon-tours” affair.

Rizby-Raz, against whom the prosecution has recently sought to renew criminal proceedings, was key to the prosecution’s efforts to prove the double-billing charges against Olmert. The latter’s appeal in that case is still pending before the Supreme Court.

From Weinstein’s decision, it emerges that Carmon testified to the state comptroller that Graucher paid for two of Netanyahu’s trips to New York. According to law, testimony before the state comptroller is not admissible in criminal court, and so the police must re-question all witnesses. That is one reason Korev transferred the file to the police investigations branch. Carmon told the police that her statements to the comptroller were misquoted. This time she said that only one of Netanyahu’s trips, in November 2006, was paid for by Graucher.

As in Olmert’s case, the chance of Netanyahu being tried for irregularities in the funding of his trips depends greatly on whether figures around him are willing to connect him to any such irregularities. Carmon, who is “A.” from the Transportation Ministry – one of the complainants of sexual misconduct in the rape case of former President Moshe Katsav – seems not to fear confronting authority figures. Thus, the attorney general has no choice but to accept her change of testimony.

Graucher told police he had invited Netanyahu to lecture in New York in November 2006, and may have paid for his stay. Graucher presented a bill he sent to the inviting organization, who supposedly reimbursed him. The decision to close the case does not say whether Graucher was reimbursed, if he indeed paid for the trip. If Graucher was reimbursed, it is not clear what, if anything, Netanyahu knew about it.

The state comptroller prepared a report on 16 trips Netanyahu made during his term as finance minister, following an investigative report by Raviv Drucker for Channel 10. Because of Weinstein’s probe, new State Comptroller Yosef Shapira’s report has been delayed. Only now that the attorney general has completed his probe can he give Netanyahu the material he collected, to receive Netanyahu’s response. Then this report can be published.

Only then can it be known how solid the attorney general’s decision was to close the case. For now, the public can only see two trees, and the question remains of how big the forest is.

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