Netanyahu at cabinet meeting.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/POOL)
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira on Friday held a special questioning session of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the “Bibi Tours” affair, his flights allegedly funded by wealthy associates from the late 1990s to early 2000s.
The questioning was unusual in that Shapira conducted it personally at Netanyahu’s his residence, and not at the comptroller’s office.
It was not a criminal investigation, as Shapira does not have that authority and Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein closed a criminal investigation into the case in September 2014.
However, the questioning highlighted that Weinstein had closed the investigation before Shapira had completed his report on the matter, potentially prematurely, and signaled that it has not passed from the public agenda.
The questioning was spun differently by different parties.
Netanyahu’s critics read into it his being under pressure to explain issues which his prior written explanations had not sufficiently resolved, while the prime minister and his supporters portrayed the session as his merely seeking to be forthcoming to resolve any unnecessary misunderstandings.
Shapira’s final conclusions are expected in his annual report in the coming months.
When Weinstein closed his review of the “Bibi Tours” scandal in September 2014 prior to the completion of the comptroller’s report, he said it was because he had determined there was little chance of it leading to an indictment.
“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 at the time.
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.