Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu billed two separate organizations for a single flight abroad on two separate occasions in 2006, according to a report by Channel 10 which aired nationwide last night.
According to the report, which included revelations unearthed by Channel 10 journalist Raviv Drucker, Netanyahu received funds to cover travel expenses for a flight from two separate entities.
The report was the second part of an expose which last month revealed that Netanyahu took several trips abroad that were subsidized by wealthy backers and associates during his stint as finance minister and an MK.
The revelations led lawmakers to request that State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss open an inquiry into trips abroad that were taken by ministers and deputy ministers in the last five years.
In an interview with Channel 2 last week, Netanyahu's wife, Sara, denied that she and her husband engaged in double-billing.
"Not one shekel has come from another source," Sara Netanyahu said. "There's no double-sale here. There's no travel agency that also serves as a bank."
When asked if the so-called "Bibi-Tours" affair was comparable to the Rishon Tours double-billing case that has resulted in an indictment against former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Sara Netanyahu replied: "No way!"
According to Channel 10, Netanyahu took a flight to New York that was paid for by the Ashdod Emergency Medical Center in September 2006. Netanyahu was the head of the opposition at the time. The bill for the flight amounted to $8,237. Netanyahu appeared at an event sponsored by the center, which sought to advance the building of a hospital in Ashdod. Netanyahu received clearance for the trip from the Knesset Ethics Committee.
On Wednesday night, Channel 10 revealed another bill that covered expenses for Netanyahu's flight. The bill, which was footed by a non-profit group known as the Jewish Heritage Foundation, was dated for the same day and covered the same sum of money.
According to Drucker, a representative from the JHF refused to specify why the organization funded Netanyahu's trip. But a spokesman for the AEMC confirmed that it did subsidize Netanyahu's flight. Netanyahu did not receive permission from the Ethics Committee to accept JHF money for the same flight.
The flight to New York was part of the same trip that was reported in the first part of Channel 10's investigation. A high-tech venture capital firm, ProSeed, paid $18,975 to fly Netanyahu and his wife from New York to Paris, and from Paris to Israel. The total cost of the trip ¬ with flights from Israel to New York, New York to Paris, and Paris to Israel ¬ came out to $35,449, or NIS 150,000.
Netanyahu aides said that the total cost of the Tel Aviv-to-New York flight (excluding the flight to Paris) cost $32,000, and the sum was divvied up between the passengers. The aides, however, did not deny that two separate bodies funded the same plane ticket, and that the surplus money was used to subsidize another person's plane ticket.
In August 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, Netanyahu, his wife, and his son flew to London for a public relations campaign aimed at explaining Israel's position to the world. In the past, Netanyahu claimed that his trip did not cost taxpayers anything. But according to Channel 10, then-opposition chief Netanyahu did fly at the expense of the state. The Knesset paid $3,240 for his trip. In addition, Channel 10 discovered that three bills were sent to Israel Bonds for those same flights. One bill was for $5,339, the second was for $8,579, and the third was for $5,319. In effect, Netanyahu's flight was subsidized by both the Knesset and Israel Bonds.
A lawyer for Netanyahu, David Shimron, said that the second bill sent to Israel Bonds was canceled. Netanyahu's bureau said that the money paid by Israel Bonds was used to fund Sara Netanyahu's ticket for that flight.
An Israel Bonds spokesperson told Channel 10 that if the organization was asked to fund Sara Netanyahu's flight ticket, it would have declined.
An official in the State Comptroller's office said last night that it plans to study the findings of the Channel 10 expose within the next few days before making a decision on whether to launch an inquiry.
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