State Comptroller Suspects Netanyahu of Criminal Behavior in Bibi-Tours Affair

Joseph Shapira finally releases report detailing suspicion of doubling billing and diversion of funds, relating to PM’s time as finance minister in 2003-2005

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and wife, Sara, at Ben-Gurion Airport before boarding flight to New York, September 28, 2014.
Avi Ohayon, GPO

The state comptroller has found that the behavior of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his associates in the so-called “Bibi-Tours” affair was tainted with suspicion of violating a series of laws that forbid accepting gifts and other benefits, according to his report to be released Tuesday.

The allegations include “suspicion of double billing and the diversion of funds” and “lack of clarity concerning accounting with El Al regarding the Netanyahu family’s use of bonus points belonging to the state that were allegedly used for private travel.”

The case involves alleged improper funding of flights abroad by Netanyahu and his family when he was serving as finance minister between 2003 and 2005. The State Comptroller’s Office originally began drafting a report on the affair more than five years ago, under Joseph Shapira’s predecessor, Micha Lindenstrauss, but that report was never released.

Asked Monday if the state comptroller’s findings had been handed over to the attorney general for investigation, the Justice Ministry said the materials “are being examined.”

This covert examination is being conducted by teams from the Jerusalem District Prosecutor’s Office and the National Fraud Squad, under the supervision of attorney Uri Corb – one of the lead prosecutors in the cases against former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert – and fraud squad commander Brig. Gen. Koresh Bar-Nur.

The Israel Police would only say, “There is no open investigation that includes the summoning of witnesses.”

The evidence supporting the criminal suspicions is not included in the comptroller’s report, in order not to reveal it and possibly obstruct the investigation. The report describes other actions that the comptroller calls very serious but rejects as not criminal.

Netanyahu said he is not aware of any claims of criminal suspicions and that all his actions were proper.

The report, officially called State Comptroller’s Report 66c for 2015, will be submitted to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein at 4 P.M. Tuesday. Until then, it is illegal to quote from the report itself, but the State Comptroller’s Office issued a statement on Monday that it cleared for publication regarding the chapter dealing with the funding of Netanyahu’s travel.

The announcement clarifies the difference between what’s in the report and the criminal suspicions: “Given the attorney general’s examination of these issues [the double funding, diversion of funds, and the personal use of points belonging to the state] and others, there are topics related to the issue that the state comptroller is prevented from examining in the framework of this report.”

The statement added that the issues examined included: “Business travel by Netanyahu and family members who accompanied him that were funded by external sources, including private sources; travel funded by the State of Israel Bonds; the expense reimbursement by Netanyahu’s bureau chief; [and] deficiencies in the process of submitting requests for ministers’ foreign travel and their approval by the cabinet.”

Shapira stated, “The trips by Netanyahu and his family that were funded by external sources when he was finance minister deviated from the applicable rules, and could create the impression of receiving benefits or conflicts of interest. Netanyahu never contacted the gifts committee or the permit committee to examine whether accepting external funding [for trips] constituted an improper benefit or forbidden gift.”

Some of the suspicions against Netanyahu and his associates echo the charges in the Olmert cases – such as accepting money from associates, including envelopes of cash, and double billing for foreign travel.

The State Comptroller’s Office suspects that the external funding by a body linked to the State of Israel (the bonds) – which was given without approval and with no connection to its raison d’tre, or by businessmen – was also used to pay back debts incurred on previous trips.

Another suspicion is that Netanyahu’s bureau hired public service workers whose primary task was to find ways to fund trips or cover debts.