Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a special cabinet meeting at the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council August 31, 2014..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein closed his review of the “Bibi Tours” scandal late on Thursday night, determining there was little chance of it leading to an indictment.
The affair involved Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s allegedly problematic flights funded by wealthy associates from the late 1990s to early 2000s.
“At the end of the day, in light of the balance of the evidence collected, it could not be found that there was a basis to open a full criminal investigation” of the prime minister, the attorney-general said.
Weinstein said he was adopting the position of the police, the Jerusalem district attorney and State Attorney Shai Nitzan, who unanimously believed there was no chance of further investigating the 1999-2008 flights leading to an indictment, and noted that significant time had lapsed since the events in question.
The investigation focused on a limited number of accusations of double-billing for reimbursements or forged receipts, such as for an August 2006 flight to London and a September 2006 flight to New York.
Weinstein accepted Netanyahu’s explanation that the London flight only appeared to be a double-billing because, for practical expediency, his wife Sara’s flight had been marked as paid for by the same source as his flight when, in reality, it was paid for by a separate source. The New York flight had two sets of reimbursement documents because the same organization had two names and the first reimbursement documents were canceled when the group asked for the papers to be redone.
Manchester philanthropist Joshua Rowe, who paid for the Netanyahu’s trip to London, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the attorney-general’s decision was “excellent news for the prime minister and for Israel.”
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In May 2014, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira reported that an investigation revealed the number of trips abroad by cabinet ministers and deputies had risen 60 percent from Ariel Sharon’s tenure as prime minister (2001-2006) to that of Netanyahu’s previous government (2009- 2012), despite a decision by the Netanyahu government to cut expenses for such trips by 25%.
Netanyahu’s office said the comparison was faulty because his government had many more ministers and that the number of trips per minister had actually fallen.
The proportion of trips funded by nongovernmental organizations rose 43.5%, according to Shapira, who also reported a sharp increase in the proportion of trips funded by foreign governments. The latter climbed to 49% in 2010-2011, compared with 32% in 2008-2010 and 14% in 2003-2008.
Shapira had postponed releasing his findings about Netanyahu, transferring the issue to Weinstein to decide the broader legal issues.Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.
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