The state paid 2 million shekels ($518,000) in expenses at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official and private residences in 2014, the State Prosecutor’s Office said Sunday, citing invoices.
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The sum was disclosed based on a petition by the Movement for Freedom of Information, although the suppliers’ names were not released.
Netanyahu and his wife Sara have been plagued by allegations of improper spending over the years, including when Netanyahu was finance minister from 2003 to 2005.
On Sunday, the State Prosecutor’s Office said the Shin Bet security service had recommended that the suppliers’ names be withheld “due to concerns about harm to the prime minister’s safety and well-being.”
In 2014, at the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, the state paid more than 500,000 shekels for cleaning expenses, and more than 100,000 shekels at Netanyahu’s private residence in Caesarea, the prosecutor’s office said.
For electricity expenses these numbers topped 130,000 shekels and 20,000 shekels respectively. At the official residence, more than 50,000 shekels went toward soft drinks and wine, along with about 7,700 shekels for kitchen utensils.
“One advantage of freedom of information is the ability to examine the boundary between what is in the open and what is hidden. When it involves the use of public funds for private expenses, the boundary is clear,” said Nirit Blayer, the director of the Movement for Freedom of Information.
“That which is personal, private and for which they don’t want to submit invoices ostensibly doesn’t have to be paid for out of public funds. What the public pays must always be transparent to public oversight,” said Blayer, whose group had submitted the petition.
After a court had released a decision on the issue, Netanyahu asked to be made a party to the proceedings. He also opposed the handing over of information, citing a possible infringement to his privacy.
But the judge ruled that because Netanyahu’s decision not to turn over invoices was taken after the court had delivered its ruling, the Movement for Freedom of Information could file a separate appeal.
For 2009, 2010 and 2011, expenses at the prime minister’s residences rose from 1.86 million shekels to 2.4 million shekels to above 3 million shekels.
Following news reports on alleged profligacy, that number began to decline; for example, in 2014, expenses were 400,000 shekels below those for 2013.
The figures at the prime minister’s residences were taken from a report by the State Comptroller’s Office in February 2015.
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira said the numbers for 2010 through 2013 “did not accord with the basic principles of proportionality, prudence, thrift and efficiency.”
Netanyahu has also been plagued by the so-called Bibi-Tours affair – suspicions that he violated laws that forbid the accepting of gifts and other benefits.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Sunday there was "nothing new here."
"The data were published years ago and the payments were made according to decisions by professionals and in accordance with laws that have been applied to all prime ministers," it said.
"The attempt to create a special standard for Prime Minister Netanyahu is fundamentally illegitimate. All expenses detailed here were approved by the professional echelons and based on the approval of the Knesset and attorney general."
The Prime Minister's Office quoted a rule set by the deputy attorney general based on a 2001 decision.
"The state treasury shall participate in expenses of the prime minister's private residence and pay for expenses for the use of the apartment such as cleaning, water, electricity, gas, heating, gardening and telephone lines," it said.
“The treasury will contribute to renovations and other repairs carried out only within the confines of maintenance of what already exists.” Netanyahu’s expenses met these criteria, the Prime Minister’s Office said.