Lindenstrauss decides to probe all MK trips abroad

Both sides claim victory as comptroller announces all ministers going back to 2006 will be looked into, PM not sole focus of probe.

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL, NADAV SHEMER
April 5, 2011 22:11
3 minute read.
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss

311_Micha Lindenstrauss. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Both opposition and coalition forces claimed victory Tuesday when State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss announced that he would expand his probe into the socalled “Bibi-Tours” scandal to include all overseas travel by prime ministers, ministers and deputy ministers since 2006.

Lindenstrauss announced his decision during a heated session of the Knesset’s State Control Committee, initially scheduled to include a revote on last Wednesday’s controversial decision to expand authority granted to the State Comptroller’s Office. Coalition MKs, in addition to crying foul on the vote itself, complained that the state comptroller’s mandate to probe Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s overseas travels was unfair.

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Committee members from the Likud claimed that committee chairman Yoel Hasson (Kadima) had planned last week’s vote in such a way as to prevent coalition MKs from participating. Although Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Inon reiterated during Tuesday’s meeting that he had found no flaw in the vote, he emphasized that more stringent rules should be determined for the way MKs were informed of last-minute hearings.

MK Ophir Akunis (Likud) complained during the meeting that last week, Likud MKs had discovered that the vote had taken place from reports on the evening news.

Calls for Lindenstrauss to probe Netanyahu’s travels emerged almost two weeks ago, when Channel 10’s investigative program Makor alleged that Netanyahu had utilized a carefully crafted network of wealthy associates to finance private flights, luxury hotel suites, first-class restaurants, and trips abroad for himself and his family.

But Likud ministers and MKs came to their chairman’s defense, arguing that many politicians had traveled overseas, enjoying luxurious conditions funded by private donors and organizations. In the past week, a number of Likud officials have suggested that Lindenstrauss’s probe, officially initiated last Thursday, be expanded to include all MKs and ministers throughout the past decade.

Lindenstrauss said that he preferred, instead, to engage in an in-depth examination of top politicians’ travels.

“The probe will look at all of the aspects related to the subject, including the processes surrounding requests and approval of trips for ministers and deputy ministers, and the question of funding provided by private interests,” Lindenstrauss told MKs during the afternoon committee session.

Lindenstrauss did, however, emphasize that he would look at the connection between Netanyahu’s overseas travels and the Likud primaries. The comptroller said it would take months of investigation before any conclusions were reached, and added that he would seek the cooperation of the Attorney- General’s Office in probing the activities of overseas donors.

Both Kadima and Likud pointed to Lindenstrauss’s decision as a victory for their arguments.

“The Likud’s attempt to disrupt the state comptroller’s intents to examine the ethical and criminal questions surrounding Netanyahu’s hedonistic travels failed,” trumpeted acting Kadima Faction Chairman Yohanan Plesner.

Likud MKs, including Yariv Levin, who proposed the compromise that was eventually accepted by Lindenstrauss, also claimed victory in successfully expanding the comptroller’s mandate.

“Examining the activities of one single person would be unjust for that person, and also does not satisfy the substantive purpose of oversight,” explained Levin.

Also on Tuesday, opposition leader Tzipi Livni addressed the “Bibi-Tours” allegations for the first time.

“Particularly when we face [security threats], we cannot allow ourselves a situation in which the public stops believing in politicians,” Livni said during a conference entitled “The Israeli Economy Under the Shadow of Security Threats.”

The conference was hosted by Tel Aviv University’s Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, headed by Prof. Yitzhak Ben-Israel.

Livni stressed in her speech that politicians “are those who will determine the future of our children and our grandchildren.”

“The expression that everybody is corrupt is incorrect, and the time has come for the public to judge its elected representatives,” she said. “This is part of the rehabilitation process that we need to go through, most of all for ourselves.”


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