State Comptroller to probe ‘Bibi-Tours’ allegations

Lindenstrauss decides to investigate affair; Sara Netanyahu slams media's "ritual attacks" against her, saying "enough already."

311_Micha Lindenstrauss (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
311_Micha Lindenstrauss
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss announced Thursday that he would initiate a probe into allegations of campaign finance violations and improper funding of international trips lodged against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Lindenstrauss decided to launch the investigation following a meeting with State Comptroller’s Office heads Thursday afternoon, where they deliberated a series of complaints filed against Netanyahu by anti-corruption watchdog groups and opposition politicians.
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The complaints about what has been dubbed “Bibi-Tours” began surfacing after the airing of a report on Channel 10’s investigative news program Hamakor, which cast a shadow on multiple flights taken by Netanyahu and his family in the late 1990s and early 2000 that were allegedly paid for by wealthy Netanyahu backers.
The report suggested that there had been ethical lapses in Netanyahu’s behavior when donors and sponsors agreed to fly his aides and family on first-class flights, and treated them to luxury hotels, fancy cars, personal assistants, entertainment and meals at five-star restaurants.
Although the prime minister and his wife may legally fly using state funds, the report argued that Netanyahu’s external relationships – and perks received during these trips – were ethically questionable.
A second report that aired on Channel 10 on Sunday suggested that Netanyahu allegedly violated campaign funding laws by submitting only partial reports of donations he received. Channel 10 reporter Raviv Druker presented viewers with a list of donors to Netanyahu’s 2005 Likud primary elections campaign, suggesting that in some cases the donations exceeded the limits imposed by campaign financing laws.
“The investigative report raises serious suspicions that the prime minister allegedly received perks at great expense, and that the prime minister allegedly violated party funding laws,” wrote State Control Committee chairman MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) to Lindenstrauss.
In his announcement on Thursday, Lindenstrauss clarified that initially he would look only into the allegations of campaign finance wrongdoing and into those privately funded flights that potentially violated ministerial conflict-of-interest regulations.
He said he would consider investigating the other issues, depending on developments. If Lindenstrauss concludes that the evidence points to criminal violations, he is likely to turn the file over to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.
In an interview to Channel 2/YouTube on Wednesday, Netanyahu claimed the reports were part of a campaign being orchestrated against him. He said the reports had been distorted and were tainted by “hypocrisy,” and that he was being judged by different standards than those used for other prime ministers, as well as presidents, ministers and Knesset members.
The worst thing about the reports, he said, was that in order to harm him, certain journalists attacked his wife.
“I want to tell all those journalists – or part of them who are working against me – this won’t help you.
This is malicious; it is hypocritical – but I will remain here for many more years. I won’t change my positions, and I will continue to lead the country,” he said.
Netanyahu also filed libel lawsuits against Channel 10 and Ma’ariv, accusing them of besmirching his reputation in news reports.
On Thursday evening it was Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, who spoke to the public. In a rare interview to Channel 2 news, she defended her husband’s actions and attacked portions of the media for what she called their “ritual attacks” against her.
“I decided to speak out because I feel I don’t have the strength for another attack,” she said. “Once again I am facing the public as a target.
Again the prime minister is being attacked through me. It is the continuation of the attacks I suffered in my husband’s former term as prime minister and frankly I’m tired of it. These evil rumors have become something of a ritual of sanctimony and hypocrisy. Enough already.”
Sara Netanyahu insisted that all the couple’s flights had been financed in accordance with regulations and in a standard becoming a former head of government.
“You must understand, my husband is the most sought-after speaker in the world when it comes to talking on behalf of Israel.... A short investigation revealed that thousands of public officials had taken trips in recent years. Nobody pays for their [own] flights.”
Sara Netanyahu also rejected criticism that the couple was fond of a luxurious lifestyle and traveled extravagantly.
The Likud responded to Lindenstrauss’s announcement by suggesting that he look into the financing of flights of all MKs, and not just of Netanyahu.
“In the last decade there have been thousands of flights by MKs, ministers and both serving and former prime ministers, at the expense of various bodies. It is worthy of the state comptroller to inspect everyone’s flights,” the party said in a statement.
Suggestions in a similar vein were made by Nachi Eyal, director-general of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, who cited similarly high-priced trips taken by other politicians, including President Shimon Peres, Kadima’s Dalia Itzik and Haim Ramon, and Labor’s Binyamin Ben- Eliezer.
Eyal claimed that the state comptroller had treated Peres with kid gloves after he received hundreds of thousands of dollars in allegedly illegal donations for his 2005 Labor primary campaign.
Netanyahu also received a favorable nod from Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Barak, a former prime minister, said that Netanyahu’s behavior was no different from that of other prime ministers or opposition heads, who also traveled on private jets.
Barak said the behavior was reasonable and that if people wanted to change it, this needed to be agreed upon in the Knesset’s Ethics Committee.