Netanyahu expenses probe turns into criminal investigation

Earlier this year, the State Comptroller said the Netanyahu family’s use of state funds could raise criminal issues.

By AVIRAM ZINO/MAARIV HASHAVUA,
June 15, 2015 15:34
2 minute read.
Binyamin and Sara Netanyahu

Binyamin and Sara Netanyahu leave for the US.. (photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)

 
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The probe into the financial management of the Prime Minister’s Residence has changed from a preliminary review into a full criminal investigation, Ma’ariv Hashavua reported Monday.

The change follows further investigation by the police of the issues and meetings with top law-enforcement officials, including Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, State Attorney Shai Nitzan, and police Assistant Chief Ephraim Bracha.

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It moves the state prosecution a significant step closer to the possibility of questioning Sara Netanyahu and Ezra Seidoff, a deputy director-general in the Prime Minister’s Office, under caution, though that decision has not yet been made.

There is still no suspicion of personal wrongdoing by the prime minister, and the Justice Ministry has not confirmed any of the new information.

There also are still no exact indications as to which of the affairs – which come with names such as Bottlegate, Furnituregate, and Electriciangate – or the possible mixing of state and private financial matters, are at the heart of the investigation.

In one of the meetings, the probe discovered that the payment-of-expenses issue was more serious than initially believed, though the exact status of all the affairs remains uncertain.

Bottlegate refers to allegations that Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, may have improperly cashed in bottles worth NIS 4,000 in deposits, even though the bottles were bought with state funds. In February, The Jerusalem Post surveyed a range of experts, none of whom believed the affair could carry criminal charges.

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Furnituregate refers to accusations of furniture purchases with state funds for the prime minister’s private residence in Caesarea, while Electriciangate refers to the Prime Minister’s Residence using an outside contractor for electrical problems to get around limits in the state budget covering the residence’s electricity costs.

The report goes so far as to say that hiring the private contractor, Avi Fahima, involved “misleading representations.”

Fahima had been disqualified from working on the Netanyahus’ electrical systems on the state’s dime because of a prior relationship with them, but he performed the work under the guise of working for a different contractor.

In a special February report, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira said electricity use was so high at the Prime Minister’s Residence that a certain three-month period used 70 percent of the electricity budget for the year.

The report went on to say that the outside electrician was called for service nearly every weekend over several months, including on Yom Kippur, and that since Sara Netanyahu or her staff ordered the electrician directly, there was insufficient paperwork by which to determine whether the issues could have waited until the work week for regular staff to make repairs, thereby saving state funds.

The investigation, a spin-off of a civil lawsuit by the former house manager of the Prime Minister’s Residence, Meni Naftali, moved forward following the dramatic comptroller report in which Shapira said the Netanyahu family’s use of funds raised suspicion of criminal activity and was certainly an ethical violation.

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