Netanyahu's Murky Travel Dealings Unlikely to Yield Indictment

Even as the attorney general consults judicial officials on material in comptroller's report, chances are slim that proceedings would progress beyond investigations.

Avichai Mendelblit (right) consults with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a weekly cabinet meeting, September 2015.
Ohad Zwigenberg (Pool)

Even before the State Comptroller’s Report was released on Tuesday, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit had been holding talks with senior Justice Ministry officials on how to handle the state comptroller’s material, which raises suspicions against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of double-billing for trips abroad and diversion of funds.

Another such meeting took place Wednesday, attended by senior police officers, and more of these meetings are expected. Mendelblit will have to decide soon whether the police have enough material to justify a full investigation of the allegations, which relate to the period when Netanyahu was finance minister (2003-2005). At this point, chances are small that an investigation will be launched that could result in an indictment. 

In December 2015, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira warned then-Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein that material he had gathered in his investigation of foreign travel by Netanyahu and his wife Sara indicated that crimes may have been committed. The comptroller was referring to documents that point to false reports, fraud and the use of cash to pay for some of the flights. 

Afterward, Weinstein accepted the recommendation of prosecutor Uri Korb of the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office to give the materials to the police to examine. According to Weinstein’s associates, Weinstein even agreed to have police reexamine materials that he had previously believed did not justify a criminal investigation. Despite this, over the past few months nothing had moved in the case.

On Tuesday Shapira released his report on the trips, giving the attorney general more material pointing to alleged double billing, diversion of funds, and a failure to make a reckoning with El Al airlines about frequent-flyer points belonging to the state that had allegedly been used for personal travel. 

The report found that while Netanyahu was finance minister, 10 different bodies, including foreign governments, the Israel Bonds organization, public agencies, businessmen, and private individuals had paid for the flights or for expenses when Netanyahu and his family were abroad. More than half of his trips were covered by foreign funding, and Netanyahu never approached the gifts committee or the travel permits committee to check whether taking external funding for travel constituted an illicit benefit or a forbidden gift.