Comptroller lashes Likud for financial infractions, singles out Eilat retreat

Matanyahu Englman issues report on political parties’ spending, with harshest penalties going to Netanyahu’s faction

Then-Likud MK Oren Hazan dances at the annual Likudiada party event in the southern city of Eilat, January 10, 2018. (Flash90)
Then-Likud MK Oren Hazan dances at the annual Likudiada party event in the southern city of Eilat, January 10, 2018. (Flash90)

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman on Monday issued a report on financial infractions by political parties, with the harshest penalties going to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

His rulings came in a special report on political parties’ conduct in 2018, during the term of the 20th Knesset, which dissolved in 2019, as well as in party primaries over the last two years.

Englman fined Likud NIS 200,000 ($60,000) for exceeding legal limits for donations, including by failing to include the annual party conference in Eilat in its list of donations.

The retreat for Likud party activists held in 2018 constituted a “forbidden donation,” he wrote. The fine for that event alone, which included hotel stays and performances, was NIS 100,000 ($30,000). Likud has in the past received even larger fines for the event, Channel 12 News noted.

Englman also warned Netanyahu not to use the Prime Minister’s Residence for large political gatherings, referring to conferences the premier held at the residence during Likud party primaries in 2019.

Likud accounts were also mismanaged and “not in accordance with the provisions of the law and the instructions of the state comptroller,” Englman said.

Englman issued smaller fines to other parties including Labor, Agudat Yisrael, Ra’am, and Balad.

In 2018, Labor, then under the leadership of Avi Gabbay, exceeded legal spending limits during local elections. The party incurred a NIS 100,000 ($30,000) fine.

Agudat Yisrael, part of the United Torah Judaism alliance, was fined NIS 40,000 ($12,000) for “forbidden expenses” related to municipal elections.

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman speaks at the annual justice conference on September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Balad, part of the Arab majority Joint List, was fined NIS 25,000 ($7,500) for mismanaging financial accounts, including by organizing children’s summer camps that included financial benefits for participants and other financial irregularities.

Ra’am, another Arab party that recently split from the Joint List, was fined NIS 26,000 ($7,900) for exceeding allowable expenses in local elections.

Englman also fined a handful of lawmakers for exceeding the funds allocated to them for party primaries and other offenses. These included Likud MKs Ayoub Kara, Nir Barkat, Osnat Mark, Fateen Mulla, and the Labor party’s Saleh Saad.

Barkat received the steepest fine, NIS 25,000 ($7,500), for infractions including a failure to record his expenses.

During the time covered by the report, Likud, Labor, Jewish Home, Meretz, and the now-defunct Zehut party all held primaries for either their leadership spot or to determine their party’s electoral slate.

Englman said 266 people ran for Knesset spots in 2019. All were required by law to submit a report on their financial activities, donations, and income and expenses related to campaigns. The comptroller found problems in 71 of the reports.

Of the eight candidates who ran for leadership roles in party primaries, only one exceeded the maximum allowance for spending, and only by NIS 488 ($148). The candidate, who was not named, was not issued a fine, due to the low amount, the Walla news site reported.

Primary candidates who are sitting Knesset members are eligible for state funding, while new candidates can apply for a loan or partial grant.

Englman’s report said that the Treasury had spent NIS 14 million ($4.2 million) on primaries, with most of the funding going to Likud, which received NIS 10.5 million ($3.2 million).

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