Despite hefty spending, PM may be in biggest stew over electrician

Despite hefty spending, PM may be in biggest stew over electrician

Comptroller’s report includes three allegations that could result in legal action, as well as ‘hedonistic’ spending on food, hair, cleaning

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara celebrate the Mimouna in Or Yehuda in April 2013. (photo credit: Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara celebrate the Mimouna in Or Yehuda in April 2013. (photo credit: Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash90)

The much-anticipated State Comptroller report on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spending, released Tuesday, confirmed (but did not elaborate on) some of the main allegations against the premier and his wife, as well as finding spending on a scale not seen before.

The report could hurt Netanyahu in the polls, and could also land him and his wife in legal hot water.

Netanyahu and his wife could face criminal charges over “Bottlegate,” or the accusation that Sara Netanyahu pocketed some NIS 4,000 ($1,035) of bottle refunds for recycling.

Accusations that she purchased a set of patio furniture identical to the patio furniture at the official residence, which was subsequently delivered to the Netanyahu’s private residence, could also get them in trouble.

A third alleged scandal, over a scheme to overpay an electrician friend — Avi Pachima — by inviting him to do work on weekends and holidays and a subsequent cover-up, may also result in criminal charges.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is evaluating the evidence, and is expected to make a decision on how to proceed before the elections.

Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli calld on Weinstein to immediately open a probe into the electrician allegation.

“From the report it emerges that Netanyahu didn’t only take advantage of his position as prime minister and of the public’s trust, but also there is suspicion that he is ignoring the law if not actually breaking it,” she said, according to Ynet.

According to the report, the Netanyahus employed a personal acquaintance as a weekend/holiday electrician for their private Caesarea residence, after the committee overseeing their expenses explicitly disqualified him due to the personal ties with the prime minister.

The Netanyahus nonetheless had the electrician, who was named by Hebrew media as Pachima, work as the primary contractor, while creating a “false impression” that another contractor had been employed instead. Pachima was invited to work nearly every weekend between September and November 2009, where he was paid NIS 10,500 ($2,700) for his work — some 70% of the annual budget for technicians working on weekends and off-hours.

Pachima was also summoned to the Netanyahu residence on the holiday of Yom Kippur, the report said, when nearly every business in Israel, even those open 24/7, shuts down.

At the time, Pachima was a member of the Likud Central Committee, and the Netanyahus spent the Mimouna holiday with the Pachima family in 2010.

While not criminal, the most high-profile accusations were related to the Netanyahu’s grand spending.

The report drew fierce accusations of “hedonism” from Netanyahu’s political rivals, while the Likud party blamed the prime minister’s ex-custodian.

General residence costs: The report showed that in 2009, the general costs for the upkeep of the Netanyahus’ three residences stood at NIS 1,860,000 ($481,000). The costs climbed in 2010 to 2.4 million ($621,000), and peaked in 2011 at 3.1 million ($802,000). In 2012, the costs decreased to 2.8 million ($724,000), and in 2013, fell further to 2.4 million ($621,000).

Food expenses and hosting official guests: The report found that in 2013, the prime minister dramatically cut food costs to NIS 226,000 ($58,000) from NIS 458,000 ($118,000) a year earlier. In 2009, the food costs stood at NIS 211,000 ($54,000) and in 2010, the expenses spiked to NIS 490,000 ($126,000).

Moreover, with regard to costs of take-out food, the report found that in 2010, some NIS 71,851 ($18,000) went toward these meals, and in 2011, some NIS 92,781 ($23,000), although a chef was employed in the Prime Minister’s Residence throughout this period.

“This behavior on the part of the Prime Minister’s Office is not correct,” the report said.

Hair and makeup costs: The report found that the prime minister and his wife exceeded their hair and makeup budget (NIS 53,000/$13,000) by nearly 250%.

Employees in the PMO purchased items for the prime minister and were not reimbursed, the report said.

Cleaning costs: The monthly costs for cleaning the prime minister’s residences stood at NIS 75,400 ($19,000) during 2009-2013. The Netanyahus spent NIS 8,200 ($2,100) a month to clean their Caesarea home between the years 2010-2012, the report notes, despite spending the bulk of their time in Jerusalem.

“The State Comptroller’s Office believes these expenses are significantly excessive,” the report said.

The President’s Residence: The report also addressed the budget in the President’s Residence. During 2011-2014, when Shimon Peres was president, the annual budget stood at NIS 40 million-44 million ($10-11 million) and every year, the president requested a 20 percent increase, it said. The issue reflects that “the Finance Ministry’s budget division did not formulate a budget that correctly reflects the costs of the president,” the report said.

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