Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Monday ordered a criminal investigation into spending at the prime minister’s residences. At this stage, neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his wife Sara is a suspect.
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The chief suspect is Ezra Saidoff, the deputy director general for material and operational resources in the Prime Minister’s Office. Weinstein is expected to recommend that the Civil Service Commission either suspend him or move him to a different job.
The police probe will cover both the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem and his private home in Caesarea, where the state covers some, but not all, expenses. It is based on a state comptroller’s report issued in February, just before the last Knesset election, along with evidence supplied by Meni Naftali – the former chief caretaker at the official residence.
The probe will focus on three issues. One is the employment of electrician Avi Fahima, a former Likud Central Committee member who has been close to Benjamin Netanyahu for years and often did work at the Caesarea residence in the years when Netanyahu was out of office.
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s report found that the Prime Minister’s Office continued using Fahima for work at the Caesarea home, but hired him in a manner that circumvented government regulations: It signed a contract with another contractor, who then used Fahima as a subcontractor.
Moreover, it paid Fahima inflated sums for “urgent repairs” on Shabbat and even Yom Kippur, when regular employees in the Prime Minister’s Office are unavailable.
The second issue relates to refunds on recycled bottles. As Haaretz reported earlier this year, between 2009 and 2013 Sara Netanyahu allegedly pocketed thousands of shekels in such refunds. The refunds should actually have gone to the government, which paid for the original drinks.
Two years ago, after this issue first came to light during Naftali’s lawsuit against the state and the Netanyahus, the prime minister repaid the state 4,000 shekels ($1,050). But Naftali claimed the real sum Sara Netanyahu took was around 24,000 shekels.
The third issue relates to garden furniture purchased for the prime minister’s official residence. Police suspect the new furniture was actually transferred to the Caesarea home, while the official residence was left with the old furniture.