State Comptroller Secretly Quizzed Netanyahu in 'Bibi-Tours' Probe

Probe began 11 months ago amid allegations that PM traveled at expense of businessmen, donors, and that he illegally obtained campaign funds.

The State Comptroller's Office secretly questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week about his alleged financial improprieties over the last decade or so, sources told Haaretz.

This is the first time Netanyahu has been questioned in the so-called Bibi Tours probe, which began around 11 months ago amid allegations that he had traveled at the expense of businessmen and donors, that some of his trips had been double-billed and that he had illegally obtained campaign funds.

Benjamin Sara Netanyahu - File photo: GPO - 02032012
File photo: GPO

The interview, which lasted for about two and a half hours, was held on Monday in the prime minister's Jerusalem office, the sources said. Neither the Prime Minister's Office nor the comptroller's office gave a statement to the press afterward.

In recent months the comptroller interviewed several of Netanyahu's former advisers and aides who had worked with him in the past 10 years during his terms as finance minister and opposition leader.

The aides and advisers testified about the ways Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu's luxury trips abroad were financed, how the money was transferred and how the couple's expenses for their flights and luxury hotels were covered.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu's attorneys gave the comptroller's office documents, receipts and invoices related to the Netanyahus' trips abroad over the past six years, in a bid to prove that nothing improper was done.

Legal sources said on Thursday that Netanyahu's interview was probably the final stage of the investigation and he would receive a first draft of the comptroller's report in a month or two.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is due to retire in four months and is expected to release the final report on the probe before he does.

It is still not clear if the inquiry's findings at this stage raise suspicions of criminal offenses by Netanyahu. If they do, Lindenstrauss will pass his findings on to the attorney general to decide whether to open a criminal investigation.

Lindenstrauss decided last March to probe the funding for Netanyahu's trips abroad and his campaign in the Likud primary, following journalist Raviv Drucker's expose on Channel 10.

Drucker alleged that Netanyahu had accepted funding from private businessmen for trips for himself and his family while in public office. He also said two different organizations had paid for the same trip - one the Netanyahus took to the United States in September 2006.

Drucker also said that in August 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, Netanyahu, Sara Netanyahu and one of their sons traveled to London on a trip funded by both the Knesset and Israel Bonds.

Another report claimed that in 2005 Netanyahu had received private campaign donations without reporting all of them to the state comptroller, as required by law.

Following demands by coalition parties in April, Lindenstrauss also decided to look into the overseas trips made by ministers and deputy ministers from 2006.

As part of the inquiry, the comptroller's office has examined hundreds of requests by ministers and deputy ministers for approval to travel abroad over the past six years.

In separate television interviews over the past year, both Netanyahu and his wife denied that there was anything improper about the funding of their trips. They firmly denied allegations of double-billing. Netanyahu accused the media of trying to undermine him politically and of trying to harm him by targeting his wife.

In an interview with Channel 2 at the end of March 2011, Netanyahu said: "We're dealing with all kinds of stories, most of them groundless and tainted with hypocrisy. There are journalists who don't like it that I'm prime minister and are trying in their own way to change that."

Netanyahu filed a libel suit against Channel 10 at the end of March last year, which is still underway.

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