Netanyahu's Travel Expenses Report: The Final Chord in a Long Concert of Procrastination

Compared to the damaging documentation collected by the police, the state comptroller's report is hollow; nevertheless, it illustrates a man who is pathologically averse to paying for himself.

Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz
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Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz

The state comptroller's report on the funding of the Netanyahu couple's travel abroad is the final chord in a long process of procrastination, and further testimony to the damage caused to Israeli society when a prime minister is able to choose those who are meant to oversee him.

The parties to this calculated procrastination were State Comptroller Joseph Shapira (who was chosen after an audition at the royal residence) and former attorney general Yehuda Weinstein, who was previously Netanyahu's private attorney.

On taking office in 2012, Shapira received a highly incriminating report about the Netanyahu family's penchant for receiving favors from his adviser on issues of corruption, retired police major general Nachum Levy.

Instead of jumping at the opportunity and publishing the report immediately, Shapira decided to fire Levy. "Corruption in the country is declining rapidly," he told Levy during a private meeting. "I don't need an adviser for it."

A few months previously, the Netanyahu family lawyer David Shimron had asked that Levy be removed as an investigator in the "Bibi-Tours" affair, on the grounds that he had served as head of the police investigation into another affair involving the Netanyahus and had recommended that the couple stand trial.

Shimron, by the way, was the one who recommended that Netanyahu support Shapira for the comptroller position.

During the course of 2012, Shapira transferred all the raw documents gathered by his office to Weinstein. The excuse: Suspicion of criminality.

The comptrollers who preceded Shapira had not run from their obligation to confront power-brokers, even when they discovered signs of criminality that obliged them to collaborate with the attorney general and the police. They didn't wait for someone else to do the dirty work for them.

Shapira's panicked sprint to Weinstein achieved its purpose. The two agreed in 2013 that Shapira would freeze his work and refrain from sending the investigative material to Netanyahu until Weinstein ruled on the fate of the investigation. That agreement was documented in a letter that Shapira sent to Weinstein, a letter that was carefully phrased to serve their common interest in avoiding incriminating Netanyahu if the letter was ever revealed. Before sending the letter, Shapira asked Shimron to approve it.

At that point, the most serious phase of the procrastination apparently began. Only in 2014, almost two years after he had been asked to look into the prime minister's integrity, did Weintsein announce that he had found no basis for a criminal investigation of Netanyahu.

"The attorney general killed the case in the manner that characterized all his activities," a legal expert knowledgeable about the case told Haaretz. "He postponed meetings, scheduled them months apart, dealt with the case sluggishly in order to deprive it of oxygen."

From the moment Weinstein buried the criminal investigation, the hot potato rolled back to the comptroller ahead of publication of the long-awaited report. For the first time, the comptroller's investigators began to dive into the material. They took testimony from others involved in the case and discovered deep discrepancies.

The picture that was revealed to them was very worrying: Serious suspicion regarding false reports in the documentation of Israel Bonds regarding Netanyahu's travel (for example paying for security while the state security detail was on the job,) frequent payments of cash from a mysterious source to cover the costs of flights by the family, false claims (an extravagant cash claim to fund a flight which really went towards paying a hotel bill, for example) and other evidence pointing to the existence of something systematic.

At that point the comptroller's staff initiated meetings with prosecutors and showed them documents which, in their view, required the opening of a criminal investigation. However, they were still hoping that the attorney general would agree to be the bad guy and change his ruling.

In December 2015, Shapira even wrote a letter to Weinstein in which he said that the Bibi-Tours material aroused "suspicion of criminality." Those meetings and the letter led to the resumption of the police investigation.

The two guardians of the law played an embarrassing game of ping-pong just to avoid directly confronting the man to whom they owed their jobs. It led to an unprecedented result: The publication of the report after a delay of almost four years.

The report published on Tuesday was devoid of content compared to the raw material collected by the investigators. The names of the tycoons who funded the couple remain redacted and the report makes no real effort to refute Netanyahu's responses which seem to lack all basis or internal logic.

Nor is there any mention in the report of other activities that came to light in the course of the investigation: Deception, false reports, the ostensible use of cash.

Nevertheless, parts of the report tell a bitter story about Netanyahu, a story which, with variations, we first heard 20 years ago.

At the center of the plot is a man who is almost pathologically unable to use his own wallet and who searches for alternative ways of getting others to pay for his own expenses and those of his family.

Netanyahu has not been involved in heavy-duty investigations like his predecessors Sharon and Olmert. With him it’s the same pattern of getting gifts without reporting them. And, perhaps because he's aware of his personality problems and the damaging influence of his close surroundings, Netanyahu appointed two watchdogs to look after his back, rather than saving us from him.

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