The state comptroller says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted patronage in a way that “approaches suspicion of compromised integrity,” Channel 10 news reporter Raviv Drucker wrote on his Hebrew-language blog Sunday.
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Drucker, who also writes opinion pieces for Haaretz, said he had obtained the first draft of the comptroller’s report on the so-called Bibi-Tours affair — alleged improper funding for flights abroad for Netanyahu and his family when he was finance minister a decade ago.
Although the draft was drawn up about two and a half years ago, the report has yet been released. The news comes a month and a half before the March 17 general election.
“The examination showed that the trips taken by Mr. Netanyahu and members of his family with foreign funding during his term as finance minister deviated in some cases from the rules of proper management ..... Organizations and private individuals with various links to the finance minister and/or the Israeli economy funded Mr. Netanyahu’s trips abroad,” State Comptroller Joseph Shapira wrote, as reported by Drucker.
“The funding was provided with no legal examination of the possibility of conflict of interest .... The entirety of the findings ... with their severity, quantity and scope reveal a worrisome picture that points to the acceptance of benefits by Mr. Netanyahu that approaches suspicion of compromised integrity.”
According to Shapira, “the finance minister should have acted with extreme caution and examined the legal aspects of having his trips funded by foreign sources before he took them. In the opinion of the State Comptroller’s Office, this fund-raising procedure falls into the category of providing sponsorship for an event.”
According to Shapira, “On some flights, [Netanyahu’s] children’s fares were funded by foreign organizations. Several flights have also been found in which Mr. Netanyahu was funded by one foreign organization, while his wife and assistants were funded by another .... In the state comptroller’s opinion, such funding, which adds up to tens of thousands of dollars, constitutes reception of a banned gift, and in some cases even a violation of integrity.”
Drucker writes that according to the draft, the Finance Ministry paid for a hotel room abroad where Netanyahu’s children stayed. The finance minister’s assistant flew to the Netherlands at the public’s expense in order to baby-sit for Netanyahu’s children, who were still young.
“An organization named EFR that may be linked to the Erasmus School of Economics at Erasmus University Rotterdam invited Mr. Netanyahu,” Drucker quotes Shapira. “Among the material received by the Finance Ministry is an invoice in which the Finance Ministry paid for the children’s hotel rooms: 624 euros .... Netanyahu’s assistant Ran Yishai accompanied Mr. Netanyahu’s children to the Netherlands.
“In the opinion of the State Comptroller’s Office, funding Netanyahu’s children’s stay abroad at the public’s expense was an improper act. The State Comptroller’s Office sees this as a serious matter .... The state and Finance Ministry must act to return the money that was paid improperly for Mr. Netanyahu’s children’s stay abroad.”
According to Drucker, Shapira also mentions a flight for Tzipi Navon, the finance minister’s assistant who served as Sara Netanyahu’s bureau chief and allegedly flew to France with the Netanyahus. This flight was reportedly “funded by the Finance Ministry, while according to documents from the Israel Bonds organization, her flight was funded by Israel Bonds.”
The draft reportedly mentions a series of flights.
“During Mr. Netanyahu’s term as finance minister, his wife accompanied him on most of his trips abroad,” Drucker quotes Shapira. “Most of the minister’s wife’s flights were funded by foreign organizations at a sum totaling more than $50,000 for flights alone.”
This passage is followed by a list of funders for flights, which includes the Romanian government, Israel Bonds, American Friends of Likud and the Ugandan government.
Referring to the funding of Sara Netanyahu’s flights, Shapira reportedly wrote that “the minister should have contacted the gifts committee.” Shapira mentioned an example from October 2004 in which “double funding was allegedly provided for the flight of the bureau chief at that time, while it is not clear who funded Mrs. Netanyahu’s flight” — though he suspects Israel Bonds.
According to Shapira, “Although the minister’s flight was paid for by a foreign element, the trips in some cases were billed to the Finance Ministry’s budget as additional expenses tens of thousands of shekels beyond the cost funded by the foreign element for members of the entourage and security guards. The following are examples: Romania: $1,644; Britain: $4,800; the United States: 42,000 shekels [$10,700].”
Shapira said Netanyahu took 15 flights as part of his job as finance minister, according to the cabinet secretary’s office. Only 6.5 of them were funded by the finance minister, the rest was funded by foreigners. Shapira said 1.5 trips were funded by foreign governments and two by Jewish organizations. Four trips were funded by Israel Bonds.
“The examination found no written requests by Mr. Netanyahu that had been transferred to the government or the prime minister for trips .... In the state comptroller’s opinion, proper management requires that the list of a minister’s trips be in writing and include the above-mentioned information,” Shapira wrote.
“The State Comptroller’s Office believes that Mr. Netanyahu should have contacted the approvals committee before taking trips funded by foreign sources.”