Watchdog Set to Probe 'Bibi-Tours' Claims Against PM

Netanyahu dismisses allegations as 'organized campaign to besmirch me.'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday dismissed allegations about improper financing of his trips abroad, calling a Channel 10 investigative report and accompanying media discussion "an organized campaign to besmirch" him and topple his government. He denied that his trips had been funded by foreign businessmen.

As the prime minister tried to deflect the controversy about his trips abroad, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss said public figures should not be traveling overseas on funds accrued through private donations. Lindenstrauss is expected to announce today that he will launch an investigation into the so-called Bibi-Tours affair.

Benajmin Netanyahu
Channel 2

Netanyahu spoke yesterday in an interview broadcast on YouTube and Channel 2 in which he responded to questions posed by Israeli and overseas Internet surfers.

"I want to ask the prime minister about the Bibi-Tours affair," said Hillel from Jerusalem. "Please provide an explanation - I'm not making an accusation, and I'm not attacking, but please explain this to me."

Netanyahu, who for a week declined to address a multitude of questions posed after the Channel 10 report, said in the interview that he is "happy to finally have an opportunity to relate to this subject."

According to the prime minister, "We're talking about all kinds of stories, most of them fabricated and tainted by hypocrisy. There are journalists who are unhappy that I am prime minister, and who are trying, in their own way, to change this fact. I want to tell these journalists - it's not going to help you, and this is hypocritical malice. I will be here for many years and I won't change my positions."

Throughout the interview, Netanyahu tried to dodge questions posed by the Channel 2 reporter. He said that instead he wanted to respond to the question posed by Hillel.

Netanyahu stressed that none of his trips abroad had been funded improperly. He said the media applied double standards to him, compared to its treatment of other Israeli prime ministers, presidents, cabinet members and Knesset members. All these figures behaved in exactly the same way regarding overseas trips, Netanyahu said.

"It's is infected by hypocrisy, because every year there are hundreds of trips by Knesset members, ministers and former prime ministers," he said.

"There is a standard for trips. The standard for former prime ministers and presidents is acceptable, and no different than what happens with [former U.S. President Bill] Clinton or [former British Prime Minister Tony] Blair. Other people didn't travel on charter flights or sleep in youth hostels."

He denied that his trips had been funded by foreign businessmen.

"Those who send invitations are not donors or private individuals. All this has been distorted .... You don't travel to a private affair - these are public events sponsored by bodies that are trying to help Israel, or encourage immigration to Israel. These aren't private trips. Who will finance them? Donors."

Netanyahu formulated much of his responses as attacks on the media, and hinted that journalists were trying to harm him and his family, for partisan reasons.

"The truth will see the light of day," he said. "You cannot hold me to a double standard. Everyone travels with their wives. The most awful thing is that to harm me, they attack my wife in a horrific, unjustified manner."

Netanyahu also attacked the opposition Kadima party, led by MK Tzipi Livni. He said there was no corruption in his own Likud party. "During the period of the last government, five people were brought to trial, all from the Kadima party," he said. "During my government's term, nobody from the main coalition party, Likud, has faced trial."

Trying to decide about the scope of a possible investigation into the funding of the prime minister's trips, Lindenstrauss took the unusual step yesterday of turning to MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima ), chairman of the State Control Committee.

Lindenstrauss asked that the committee give Nahum Levy, an adviser for the prosecution of public corruption at the State Comptroller's Office, powers suitable for the head of an investigative committee. The intention is for Levy, who will apparently head an investigative team, to have the authority to summon witnesses and demand that they furnish documents.

Today, Lindenstrauss will convene a special meeting of a team of senior officials from the State Comptroller's Office who in recent days have investigated aspects of the alleged Bibi-Tours affair. Participants will discuss the possible scope and nature of a review of the affair.

Officials at the comptroller's office are concerned about technical problems connected to the investigation. Many of the people possibly implicated in the affair are foreigners and individuals who cannot be subject to any criticism made by Lindenstrauss. These people cannot be summoned as witnesses or compelled to supply documents.