Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decided on Thursday to open a probe into the use of state resources at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official and private residences, but only after the March 17 Knesset election.
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The evidence to date raises suspicions that crimes may have been committed, Weinstein said. Nevertheless, he stressed, there is as yet no evidence “that raises suspicions of involvement by the prime minister himself.”
On Thursday afternoon, Weinstein met with senior prosecutors to discuss both the testimony given to the police by Meni Naftali, the former chief caretaker of the prime minister’s official residence, and the state comptroller’s report on spending at the residence that was published earlier this month. The meeting lasted for hours and ran late into the evening.
Afterward, Weinstein issued a brief statement saying that some of the material raised suspicions of criminal behavior, and therefore police should pursue the matter to determine whether a full-fledged criminal investigation was warranted.
Nevertheless, he added, the suspicions involve “acts whose gravity, relatively speaking, isn’t great (if they are proved at all).” Moreover, there is as yet no evidence of the prime minister’s direct involvement, he said.
Weinstein said he decided police should postpone their pursuit of the issue until after the election for three reasons: First, most of the relevant material is already known to the public through the comptroller’s report and media coverage of the issue. Second, police wouldn’t be able to finish their probe before the election in any case, so pursuing it now wouldn’t give the public any additional information before the vote. And third was the relative lack of gravity of the offenses.
He added that he based his decision on a 1998 ruling by one of his predecessors, which said that during an election campaign, law enforcement agencies should be cautious about taking any action that could be exploited as a political axe to grind or influence the outcome of the vote.
Prosecutors had been expected to recommend that Weinstein ask police to pursue the matter by questioning several employees of the prime minister’s residence under caution, as well as the deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Ezra Saidoff. Police sources have said that ultimately, they believe they will have to question Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, as well.
Naftali completed his testimony to the police on Thursday, after having testified for 11 hours last Friday and again on Monday. He also supplied police with tapes and documents.
Naftali, who agreed to testify after Weinstein granted him immunity from prosecution, accused the Netanyahus of systematically charging private expenses to the state and transferring items bought for the official residence to their private villa in Caesarea. He also said an employee of the official residence was used as a caregiver for Sara Netanyahu’s father prior to his death.
Commenting on Naftali’s testimony earlier this week, Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said that “on the face of it, there are grounds to look into this, but the attorney general needs to make the decision.”
The state comptroller’s report detailed numerous cases of systematic overspending at the prime minister’s residence and indicated that a few cases raised suspicions of criminal behavior. One of the most serious involved the employment of an electrician to do work on the Netanyahus’ private house in Caesarea. The electrician, a former member of the Likud party’s central committee who had been friendly with Netanyahu for years, was employed in violation of government regulations and received inflated payments, including for doing “urgent jobs” on Shabbat and even Yom Kippur.
Naftali asked the police for protection earlier this week, claiming he had suffered threats and harassment since deciding to testify.