Bibitours: A-G undecided whether criminal probe needed

A-G's office sidesteps earlier reports that Weinstein would open probe into whether there was grounds for investigation into Bibitours affair.

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL, HERB KEINO
April 7, 2011 22:13
4 minute read.
Incoming Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.

weinstein 311. (photo credit: Channel 2)

 
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The Attorney-General’s office sidestepped reports Thursday evening that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein would open a probe into whether there was grounds for a criminal investigation into the so-called Bibi Tours scandal.

Earlier in the day, Kadima representatives requested that Weinstein open a criminal investigation into the affair, the morning after Channel 10’s news-expose program “Hamakor” alleged that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu double-billed travel expenses.

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“The requests that were received by the Attorney-General’s office will be examined as soon as possible by the Attorney-General and prosecutors,” responded Weinstein’s office in an official statement. “After that, it will be decided if there is grounds to continue the probe in our office, or if we must wait until the conclusion of the State Comptroller’s probe and its findings.”

Kadima Legal Advisor Eitan Haverman complained in his letter to Weinstein that “on the basis of the severity of the actions described in the first episode and the evidence presented in it, and especially on the basis of the evidence that was detailed and broadcast in last night’s episode, it seems that it would be appropriate – not to say imperative – that you use your authority and order an investigation or a police probe initiated, which would involve an inclusive and in-depth examination of all of the legal aspect concerning the behavior, as described, of the prime minister and his wife.”

Two weeks after first airing the “Bibi Tours” allegations, Channel 10’s Raviv Druker alleged Wednesday night that on two occasions before he became prime minister, Netanyahu billed different organizations for the same flight.

According to the report, in one of the cases, Netanyahu attended a fundraising event in the US in 2006 for the Ashdod Medical Center, billing it $8,237 for the flights. He also allegedly billed the Jewish Heritage Foundation the same amount for flights taken on the same dates.

If correct, this would contradict statements made last week by Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, that there was no double-billing involved in flights Netanyahu took.

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Wednesday’s report alleged that one organization funded Netanyahu’s flight and another organization funded his wife’s flight, even though both invoices were signed under Netanyahu’s name.

On an state visit to Germany, Netanyahu attempted to avoid answering questions regarding the Channel 10 investigation.

“It is unfortunate that in the course of a visit so important both for defense and for diplomacy, I need to discuss false defamations, by people who are interested in damaging me politically,” said Netanyahu. The premier added that on Sunday, he intends to file a lawsuit for libel against Channel 10.

Netanyahu’s lawyer David Shimron said that the then-opposition leader acted according to the law during all his trips.

“There was not one agora of double-billing,” Shimron said. “A number of different organizations divided the travel expenses for the prime minister and his wife.

This is an untrue report, with the goal of defaming and harming the prime minister; otherwise it is hard to understand why the channel is determined for the second time to broadcast a report that is not true.”

After the first episode of the probe into Netanyahu’s travel expense aired, Kadima also requested that Weinstein open a criminal investigation into the premier’s travel funding throughout the past decade. Although State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss will probe Netanyahu’s – and all other ministers’ and deputy ministers’ - travel funding, Kadima has argued that the allegations against the premier constitute criminal rather than ethical offenses.

Likud mocked Kadima’s demand for an investigation, responding that “it would be better if Kadima, which invented the concept of double-funding in the Rishontours scandal, was more concerned with its own list of suspect before they begin to worry about other parties.”

Also on Thursday, State of Israel Bonds - Europe denied the allegations made by Channel 10's Raviv Druker that money meant to fund Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's travel was used so his wife, Sara, could join him, unbeknown to the organization.

"Israel Bonds has invited Netanyahu and his wife to events abroad according to the acceptable protocol observed by previous governments and ministers," the organization said in a statement.

"Thus," the Bonds spokesman explained, "we invited Netanyahu and his wife to London in 2004, and we were happy to have him participate in an event during the war in August 2006." The organization explained that Netanyahu is an especially popular lecturer, and that Israel Bonds was prepared to pay for his wife to travel in cases when Netanyahu received funding from the Knesset.

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