Analysis: Bibi Tours gone in the blink of an eye

The comptroller wrote that Netanyahu, like other ministers, failed to consult the proper committee on whether receipt of the travel funds violated the law.

By
January 4, 2017 05:18
3 minute read.
Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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While you blinked, the massive five-year Bibi Tours scandal – the one that would surely bring down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the one that opened and closed multiple times, and the one that headlined numerous state comptroller reports – was finally put to bed for good.

The entire affair was closed by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit last night in five lines, buried at the bottom of a statement mostly about other things – and with no explanation.

If you blinked, you might have missed the bombshell.

The Bibi Tours affair broke in 2011, when Channel 10 reported that a series of flights Netanyahu took in the late 1990s and early 2000s with his wife, Sara, were allegedly paid for by wealthy associates, possibly illegally.

The affair led to comptroller reports that called on former attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein to investigate, which he did, eventually closing the case without a full criminal investigation.

However, the comptroller passed on new, related evidence in May and December 2015, and in February and May 2016, calling to reopen the case, which Mandelblit eventually did.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s most recent report in May reviewed the prime minister’s conduct regarding overseas flights he and family members took. It explicitly noted that it left out the most serious potential criminal charges, some of which fell earlier and later than the probe’s main 2003 to 2005 time frame, when Mandelblit was reviewing them.

The report focused on: funding for flights provided by nongovernmental sources, such as Israel Bonds, payment of costs by his former bureau chief as finance minister and deficiencies in the process of approving overseas travel requests from ministers.

The comptroller wrote that Netanyahu, like other ministers, failed to consult the proper committee on whether receipt of the travel funds violated the law.

All that Netanyahu submitted was a request for approval from the government to take a trip – without providing details of the trip, its purpose, or a list of accompanying family members – thereby creating an impression of conflicts of interest.

In discussing the broader issue with the comptroller at a personal hearing in January 2016, Netanyahu said flights financed by a foreign organization were different than those financed by a private individual – meaning he could give fewer details, because there was no special concern that a minister would do something in return for the individual who paid.

All of this is just one of myriad issues – many of which contained significant details in comptroller reports – raised with Netanyahu’s flights and hotel accommodations.

Even when Weinstein first closed the case, he provided a back-and-forth of some of the main allegations and some of Netanyahu’s explanations.

Where are the details and explanations in Mandelblit’s statement closing the case? The comptroller’s report implied he could not discuss all the issues because Mandelblit would be reviewing them. Where is Mandelblit’s fleshing out of the issues that the comptroller could not discuss? Incidentally, The Jerusalem Post has learned that Shapira continues to stand by his report that – despite Mandelblit’s findings – Netanyahu’s actions were problematic.

And why does Mandelblit’s statement contain so much less detail than Weinstein’s did when he closed the case? Ultimately, the purpose of Mandelblit’s late Monday night statement appeared to be to emphasize how many Netanyahu cases were being closed, without offering – other than laconic generalities – details or grounds for closing them.

Add to the mix that Mandelblit decided whether to open a criminal probe into Netanyahu’s actions, when he was already on record as cabinet secretary, interpreting the entire legal framework of ministers funded by nongovernmental actors differently from the comptroller. Then, Bibi Tours being closed with less information explaining why, looks more problematic.

Some of the details could have come down to the question: Is a minister being funded by non-government actors inherently suspicious, as the comptroller thought, or normative? We never got an answer explaining the heart of these five-year old issues from Mandelblit, and then the case was closed – in the blink of an eye.

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