Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to delay publication of a state comptroller’s report on the management of his residences until after next months’ election, so as to blunt its sting and reduce its public impact. Netanyahu and his representatives, who knew how severe the report’s contents were, almost succeeded in this goal, thanks to State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s willingness to cooperate with them. Only public pressure, accompanied by media reports about issues that the comptroller preferred not to deal with in this report, brought him to change his plans and release the report yesterday.
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The situation described in the report is embarrassing. The person who has headed the government for the last six years appears to have no shame in his behavior. Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, forgot that an elected official is supposed to serve his voters, not abuse the trust they gave him.
The things described in the report are outrageous. The list is long and includes, inter alia, an instruction to cancel tax payments, circumventing the regulations to employ an electrician who was a family friend, sending employees out to do the Netanyahus’ personal shopping without reimbursing them, wastefulness and hedonism at the state’s expense.
This is shameful behavior, but that conclusion by itself is insufficient, because there are also prima facie indications of criminal behavior. Until now, Netanyahu has not only enjoyed the help of the comptroller, but also, and especially, that of the men who occupy the two most senior positions in the law enforcement system, both of whom are his appointees – Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. Both have gone out of their way to thwart criminal proceedings against Netanyahu, or even proceedings that could lead in that direction and end up tagging him as one of the chief suspects.
This intolerable situation must end. Any other person who was the subject of findings like those in the comptroller’s report would have been put under criminal investigation, in addition to the torrent of public criticism that would have rained down on him. The box of excuses in Weinstein and Nitzan’s offices has run out. The comptroller’s report and the material that substantiates it; the civil suit filed by the former housekeeper at the prime minister’s residence, Meni Naftali; the admission by the Netanyahus that they pocketed 4,000 shekels (about $1,000) in bottle deposits – all these constitute clear grounds for an immediate criminal investigation.
The proximity to the election should not prevent such a probe. On the contrary, the police should make haste to finish this simple investigation within the next four weeks, so that the conclusions they pass on to the prosecution can also be placed before the voters.