Knesset Panel Admonishes Netanyahu for London Spending Spree

Ethics Committee criticizes Likud Chair for failure to seek approval for donor funds used on official trip.

The Knesset Ethics Committee on Tuesday admonished Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu for taking his wife along with him on a public relations trip to London that was financed by external sources.

The committee determined that Netanyahu violated regulations when he did not request the panel's approval before he accepted the funding he received for his trip, which was meant to advocate Israeli policy during the Second Lebanon War. The committee statement said that the admonishment was the lightest penalty at its disposal to issue.

The complaint against Netanyahu was lodged by Labor Party activists on March 21, and was based on a Channel 10 investigative report on Netanyahu's trip in August 2006. According to the report, the Netanyahu couple spent NIS 131,000 during their six-day trip to London. Part of the money was supplied by the state and the rest by an unknown donor. It was also claimed that Netanyahu received free theater tickets, meals and a haircut, in violation of Ethics Committee rules that forbid the receipt of gifts and favors without the panel's approval.

The complainants also requested an explanation as to the source of the funds for Sara Netanyahu, the opposition leader's wife. The Ethics Committee forbids the accompaniment of a partner on trips abroad, which are funded by a benefactor.

Netanyahu called the allegations against him "filled with evil fallacies and a systematic slant of data."

The Likud MK also said at the time that the trip was taken at the Knesset's initiative, and was paid for by the Knesset and Jewish organizations.

He also said that he paid on his own for all private expenses, including the tickets and meals. He asked that the complaint be rejected, a request the Ethics Committee denied.

The committee determined that all cases of outside funding for MKs' trips abroad require approval, a requirement that also extends to trips partially funded by the state. Netanyahu claimed that he assumed that his bureau had consulted with the Ethics Committee, as had been done ahead of prior trips, and that he hadn't known that trips funded by a combination of sources also need approval.

The committee "reached the conclusion that MK Netanyahu's behavior constituted nothing more than a deviation from regulations." However, the panel rejected Netanyahu's explanation on his wife's accompaniment on the trip, which he said the Ethics Committee approved in principle.

"The committee emphasizes that a partner's travel costs will be provided by the MK himself, and not by the Knesset or the host. The committee doesn't find it appropriate to deviate from this rule, including in the particular case of Netanyahu, who served as prime minister in the past."