Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is expected to order the Israel Police to open an examination or criminal investigation into the "bottle" scandal recently revealed about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara.
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The order will be made as soon as the state comptroller transfers to the attorney general the additional material compiled in an investigation of the Netanyahu residences, judicial experts privy to Weinstein's position have said.
The comptroller, Joseph Shapira, said Saturday he will soon release a report on the allegedly excessive spending at the prime minister’s residences, after Haaretz reported that the document had been held up for weeks.
According to a statement by Shapira, a near complete version of the report was sent to the attorney general in August. He denied news reports that the he had agreed with Netanyahu’s lawyer’s to hold back the report until after the general election scheduled for March 17.
Following a thorough examination by his office and that of State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, the attorney general on Saturday ruled out the state comptroller's claims that the material pertaining to Netanyahu's wife, who is considered a "private person" and an "uncontrolled body," had already been transferred to his office or to the prosecution.
The jurists familiar with the case sought to clarify that the delay in opening an examination was the attorney general's fault, saying that the comptroller had received the materials nearly eight months ago and had tarried in returning its finding to the attorney general.
The material includes information on deposit-bottle refunds that Sara allegedly pocketed and later insufficiently refunded to the treasury in a check drawn from a joint account with the prime minister.
The check was for 4,000 shekels (about $1,000), although a former employee at the Prime Minister’s Residence, Meni Naftali, says this sum was less than what Sara Netanyahu had received in the first place.
The state comptroller is looking into entities that are subject to his oversight, such as the Prime Minister’s Residence and the Prime Minister’s Office. He’s also looking into budgets, clerks and the prime minister himself. Weinstein is said to prefer that Sara Netanyahu’s involvement would have also been looked into by Shapira.
Saturday night, Likud representative Nir Hefetz confirmed that the Netanyahu family returned 4,000 shekels to the state’s coffers.
It had emerged last week that Sara Netanyahu kept thousands of shekels from deposits on empty bottles that were returned, on her orders, to Jerusalem supermarkets over several years, even though the bottle deposits were state property.
In an interview with Channel 2 Saturday night, Hefetz took pains not to provide direct answers on the issue.
“I’m not an expert on all the technicalities of how things worked,” he said. “I think most citizens watching us are tired with the onslaught on Mrs. Netanyahu.”
When asked why the Prime Minister’s Residence had bought 150,000 shekels worth of alcohol over 19 months during Netanyahu’s previous term, Hefetz said “these numbers are a complete fabrication. The Prime Minister’s Office will release the real data on Monday. First of all, the Prime Minister’s Residence doesn’t buy any liquor. Regarding wine – about one bottle was bought every day, which was meant for guests.”
Hefetz added that the story had been “driven by the left and by media people whose interest is not to address who’s protecting our children and who’s watching the northern border and stops Iran from going nuclear. The important issues aren’t being dealt with.”
When asked about the 4,000 shekels that was returned to the state, Hefetz said “the answer regarding the calculation of the 4,000 shekels will be revealed a lot sooner than the answer regarding the funding sources of leftist groups.”
After Benjamin Netanyahu took office as prime minister in April 2009, Sara Netanayhu is said to have instructed the staff of the Prime Minister’s Residence to collect deposit bottles and cans, along with bottles on which there was no deposit, and return them for recycling.
She allegedly instructed her staff to give her the deposit refunds. The practice was said to have gone on for four years.
The official estimate from Yossi Itzkovitz, in charge of financial oversight at the Prime Minister’s Office, is that the deposits amounted to 1,000 shekels per year, or 4,000 shekels. Naftali, who worked at the Prime Minister’s Residence, says the figure was about 6,000 shekels per year.
On Saturday, Weinstein rejected the state comptroller’s contention that the material pertaining to the bottle deposits relates to Sara Netayahu as a private person not subject to the state comptroller’s oversight. Weinstein rejected the stance after an examination by his staff and by State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan.