Comptroller Widens Review of Netanyahu's Financing

New probe opens to examine PM's activity while in opposition.

The State Comptroller's Office has widened its review of financial support of Benjamin Netanyahu's activity when he was opposition leader. Having originally focused on Netanyahu's trips overseas, the review in recent weeks has expanded in scope as a result of testimony from former employees in Netanyahu's office.

The State Comptroller's Office currently accords "high priority" to this review. The gathering of testimony from witnesses will continue today.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has updated Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein about the expansion of this inquiry, but he has yet to submit evidence that raises suspicion of criminal wrongdoing. Testimony has been given to the comptroller's special counsel, Nahum Levy. Among witnesses who have made statements is Ari Harrow, an assistant to Netanyahu's during the Likud leader's days as opposition leader, and at the start of his current stint as prime minister.

The testimony has focused partly on ways in which funds were raised for Netanyahu's campaigns in Likud primaries and Knesset elections.

Among other things, the inquiry is examining whether wealthy Americans, friendly with Netanyahu and who wanted to advance his chances of becoming prime minister, participated in the funding of political activities outside of the Likud party - these could include demonstrations staged by army reservists against then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and then Defense Minister Amir Peretz at the end of the Second Lebanon War in August 2006, and the Labor primary in 2007 (Netanyahu feared that Ehud Barak, who defeated him in the 1999 national elections, might win ).

It has also been claimed that a foreign businessman, who is involved in economic activity in Israel, funded a supplementary campaign headquarters for Netanyahu; another allegation is that American millionaires who agreed to contribute considerable sums to Netanyahu's campaign were asked to divide their contributions into small portions, in accord with the contribution ceiling set by Israeli law, and to funnel the money to Israel via various channels.

The State Comptroller's Office confirmed last night that the inquiry of Netanyahu's financing has expanded. The office refused, however, to divulge details of the inquiry; and it would not say whether Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu have supplied their versions of events.

The State Comptroller's Office released a statement: "As a result of the review of the financing of overseas trips taken by the prime minister, ministers and deputy ministers who served in Israel's governments since 2003 ... topics from other areas are being examined; these are topics that arose during the review of these trips, and they arose in statements made by witnesses who have testified to members of the state comptroller's staff that is dealing with this subject. The state comptroller's examination of these various topics is underway today. We cannot add details at this stage of the review, other than what we have said, since any release of information would be liable to obstruct the inquiry. We are making an effort to conclude these inquiries promptly, and they have priority in the State Comptroller's Office.