Legal woes brewing at home, Netanyahu to head to Latin America
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He's being probed, she faces charges, the son's making waves

Legal woes brewing at home, Netanyahu to head to Latin America

In unusual move, official announcement of PM's Sunday departure to Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and the US does not specify if wife Sara, facing fraud indictment, will join

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with his wife Sara Netanyahu, boarding a plane to the US, at Ben-Gurion Airport, on February 13, 2017. (Avi Ohayun/GPO)
Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with his wife Sara Netanyahu, boarding a plane to the US, at Ben-Gurion Airport, on February 13, 2017. (Avi Ohayun/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to embark Sunday evening for a 10-day trip to Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and the US amid intensifying legal woes at home, with his wife facing a fraud indictment and his son sparking a public furor with an offensive Facebook cartoon post.

At this point, it is unclear whether his wife Sara will join him. In an unusual step, the Prime Minister’s Office, in a statement about the upcoming visit issued Friday, mentioned only his name, leaving unanswered the question of whether Sara would be coming along.

Netanyahu rarely travels without his spouse, and the PMO usually notes clearly in its announcements that she is part of the entourage.

The trip — hailed by Jerusalem as “historic” because it marks the first time a sitting Israeli prime minister visits Latin America — comes amid investigations of alleged criminal wrongdoing by the Netanyahus.

Screenshot of the cartoon posted by Yair Netanyahu, September 8, 2017. (Facebook)

On Friday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he will indict Sara Netanyahu for fraud for allegedly diverting some NIS 360,000 ($102,000) of shekels in public funds for her own use.

The prime minister is the subject of two separate corruption investigations, known as Cases 1000 and 2000.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister advance legislation to hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

In addition, a growing number of close former associates of the prime minister have recently been quizzed over their involvement in yet another investigation, the so-called Case 3000, which is examining Israel’s multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels from Germany. Netanyahu is not a suspect in the case, but the fact that these vessels were acquired under his watch, and that many people close to him are involved, has prompted some of his critics to call on the prime minister to quit over the affair.

On Sunday evening, Netanyahu and his entourage — which includes a delegation of businesspeople — is scheduled to take off for Argentina. After 20 hours on the plane — due to a stopover in Madrid — he will on Monday attend ceremonies in Buenos Aires to commemorate two terror attacks in the early 1990s that targeted local Jews and Israeli diplomats.

On March 17, 1992, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Israeli embassy compound, killing 29 people, including Israelis.

Plaza Embajada de Israel in Buenos Aires, the site of Israel’s former embassy to Argentina (Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel staff)

Two years later, on July 18, 1994, 85 people were killed at the building of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in what was the largest bombing in Argentina’s history. The Shiite terror group Hezbollah and its sponsor Iran have been found responsible for both attacks.

Netanyahu will lay a wreath at the former embassy site before heading to the AMIA building for a ceremony attended by leaders of the local Jewish community. Relatives of those killed will be present at the respective ceremonies.

The Buenos Aires Jewish center after it was attacked, July 1994 (photo credit: Cambalachero/Wikimedia commons)
The Buenos Aires Jewish center after it was attacked, July 1994 (Cambalachero/Wikimedia commons)

On Tuesday, Netanyahu is scheduled to lay a wreath at the Monument to General San Martín and the Armies of Independence before heading to a meeting with President Mauricio Macri. During their meeting, Israel and Argentina will sign a series of agreements on public security, customs and social insurance as well as an archives agreement regarding the Holocaust, according to the PMO.

After the two leaders address the press, they will be joined by President of Paraguay Horacio Cartes for lunch, before Netanyahu is set to headline an economic forum for Argentine and Israeli businessmen.

On Wednesday morning, the prime minister’s delegation will fly seven hours from Buenos Aires to Bogota for a whirlwind visit to meet with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, sign bilateral agreements on science and tourism cooperation, and visit the local Jewish community.

Later in the day, Netanyahu will make his way to Mexico for a meeting with President Enrique Pena Nieto, during which Mexico and Israel will sign joint agreements on space, aviation, communications and development cooperation. In Mexico City, too, the prime minister will address a forum to encourage bilateral trade and attend an event organized by the local Jewish community.

Netanyahu’s travel plans were unaffected by Friday’s earthquake — Mexico’s strongest in a century — which killed dozens and was felt in the capital.

View of a street at the eastern area of Mexico City after a 8,2 earthquake on September 8, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ALFREDO ESTRELLA)

On September 15, Netanyahu will head from Mexico City to New York, where he is expected to conduct a series of meetings with world leaders, including US President Donald Trump. No details of his meetings in the Big Apple have been released  yet.

On September 19, the prime minister is scheduled to address to deliver his annual address to the United Nations General Assembly. Minutes after wrapping up his speech, he will rush the airport to arrive in Israel in time for the onset of the Jewish New Year, which starts on September 20.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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