Attorney General Says He Will Examine Netanyahu's Travel Expenses 'Without Delay'

Mendelblit promises to look into a watchdog report which found that trips abroad by the prime minister and his family were funded by foreign governments, public bodies and businessmen.

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Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.Credit: Mark Israel Salem

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said on Tuesday that he will look into the findings of a watchdog report on the funding for trips abroad by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "If the evidence justifies it, I will not hesitate to prosecute," he said.

Dozens to trips abroad by Netanyahu during his tenure as finance minister – many of them including his wife and family – were sponsored by foreign governments, public bodies and businessmen, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira revealed in a report released on Tuesday.

"In the few months I have served as attorney general, I have not hesitated to open sensitive investigations, where the it was necessary," said Mendelblit in a speech at a conference of the Israel Bar Association in Tel Aviv. "The only relevant question is the adequacy of the evidence. Does an evidentiary basis exist that consolidates a reasonable suspicion of the commission of a crime.

"This is a professional legal question. It does not change according to the identity of the person who a claim exists that they committed a crime. These things guide me even when examining the materials received from the State Comptroller, concerning the results released in the report issued today."

Mendelblit said the matter must be examined "without delay," and since he began as attorney general at the beginning of February, he has dedicated time to a deep examination of this issue.

"I cannot provide details on the nature of the materials received from the state comptroller and its legal significance." But Mendelblit said he will speak out clearly and loudly on the matter after he completes his examination of the matter in a "professional and business-like manner."

"The examination must be conducted in a direct and matter of fact way. We will not lower the professional standards according to which we have acted and are acting," he added.

Shapira's report covered the funding of Netanyahu's overseas trips when he served as finance minister, from 2003 to 2005. The comptroller also sent to the office of the attorney general material which he said "raises suspicions of criminal conduct."

The suspicions concern double billing for tickets, diversion of funding and lack of clarity regarding the use of bonus El Al tickets and frequent flyer points belonging to the government by the Netanyahu family for private travel. The materials concerning the suspected violations were not part of the report published on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Mendelblit also commented on attacks against his predecessor as attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, and how he had handled the investigation of what has been labeled the "Bibi-Tours affair."

"During the day, in the past few hours, I heard in the media various disrespectful comments concerning the handling of the material by my predecessor in the post, attorney Yehuda Weinstein. I unequivocally reject such comments, which have no place in public discussion," he said.

After Weinstein announced in 2014 that he saw no reason to open an investigation against Netanyahu in the matter of funding his overseas trips, the State Comptroller's Office discovered further materials that raised suspicions of the possibility of criminal acts in the matter, Haaretz reported earlier.  In May 2015 and then again in December 2015, the State Comptroller passed on further materials to the attorney general on the affair.