Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out Monday night against reports of his family’s financial impropriety, slamming media coverage of him as “Bolshevik propaganda” spread by left-wingers bent on bringing him down.
“For years they have buried and sugar-coated waste and over spending of tens of millions by prime ministers and presidents from the left, and against me they carry out a campaign of character assassination over ice creams, pre-prepared meals and false rumors,” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook. He hit back following two nights of Hadashot news broadcasts detailing transcripts of recordings that emerged from 2010 conversations between a former official and close confidant of the family, Nir Hefetz, and other officials in the Prime Minister’s Office — including its top legal adviser, Shlomit Barnea Farago — in which allegedly inappropriate uses of public funds by the prime minister’s wife were discussed.
“Every evening [Hadashot] broadcasts false rumors and character assassinations of me and my family. Real Bolshevik propaganda that is just tales from years ago that never even happened,” Netanyahu charged in his post. “They repeatedly carry out this demonetization against the right, the religious and traditional Jews — everyone who is not them. It’s clear why the public doesn’t buy their garbage!”
On Sunday night, Hadashot released quotes from the recordings made by Netanyahu spokesman-turned-state’s witness Hefetz in which Hefetz and Barnea Farago, the TV report said, discuss what they termed “greedy” demands made by Sara Netanyahu for the state to fund landscaping work at the Netanyahus’ private home in Caesarea, among other expenditures, as well as the need to “protect the prime minister” from becoming “mixed up” in the alleged misappropriation of public funds.
On Monday night, Hadashot released further quotes from the recordings made by Hefetz, this time featuring conversations he had with the accountant in the Prime Minister’s Office, Yossi Strauss.
In the Monday transcripts, Hefetz and Strauss discuss how, when abroad on state trips with the prime minister, Sara Netanyahu would be given up to $2,000 a night in cash to spend on meals and shopping. That money would be expensed to the PMO.
In another quote, Hefetz says that the PMO once paid a $6,000 mini-bar bill for the Netanyahus from a trip to Moscow.
“But that’s OK. He’s allowed to do that, right?” Hefetz is quoted as asking Strauss, who responds; “Yes, it’s true that he’s allowed but it needs to within reason.”
The TV report said the PMO responded to the mini-bar allegation by noting that the prime minister does not usually have a min-bar in his hotel room, and that on many occasions, bills for the entire prime ministerial delegation are charged to the prime minister’s room. The prime minister said there was no mini-bar bill of that nature, and dismissed the allegations of financial abuse as utterly false.
In Sunday’s broadcast, Herfetz was quoted as saying to the PMO’s legal adviser Barnea Farago that Sara would allegedly would take four or five suitcases worth of dirty laundry on state trips so that they could send it for dry cleaning at hotels where they stayed, paid for by the state.
Barnea Farago protested: “That’s misuse of public money, to bring laundry that isn’t used on the trip just so it can be dry-cleaned.”
Some of the complaints focused on the lack of clarity about the rules that applied to the Netanyahus, especially when it came to receiving personal gifts from well-wishers and world leaders.
After discussing the prohibition on receiving personal gifts for their private residence in Caesarea, Hefetz told Barnea Farago at one point that “you gave me one example of [receiving] gifts, but I know there were many instances of gifts that went straight to [the prime minister’s official residence on] Balfour [Street in Jerusalem].”
Barnea Farago then complained that there wasn’t a hard and fast rule on the issue. “I want the attorney general to tell me what to do, that Yehuda [Weinstein, then the attorney general,] say ‘Balfour rules are Caesarea rules,'” in other words, that gifts are not permitted to the prime minister’s official Jerusalem Balfour Street residence either.
“What is this double game?” she demands of Hefetz. “I have to be the one confronting the prime minister?”
At one point Barnea Farago warns Hefetz, “We have to protect the prime minister so he doesn’t get mixed up in these things, and we also have to protect ourselves. Tomorrow they’ll come and ask how we approved all these things.”
Staff at the prime minister’s two residences have long complained about alleged mistreatment by Sara Netanyahu, complaints that have been the subject of lawsuits and media scandals, and have been vehemently denied by the Netanyahus.
The revelations in the tapes are eight years old, but their publication comes days after state attorneys filed an indictment against Sara Netanyahu for alleged misuse of some $100,000 in state funds between 2010 and 2013.
In the June 21 indictment, the prime minister’s wife is charged along with former deputy director general of the PMO Ezra Saidoff for fraud and breach of trust.
The two are accused of fraudulently charging some NIS 359,000 ($100,000) in gourmet meals to the state’s expense during the period in question, violating rules which ban the ordering of prepared food when a chef is already employed at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
According to the indictment, Netanyahu falsely claimed there was no cook at the time in the Jerusalem home in order to purchase meals from restaurants.
The charges against Saidoff are more severe as he is also accused of illicitly hiring chefs and servers for private meals at the Netanyahu home. The PMO staffer also falsified invoices for such activities in order to get them approved.
The indictment also covers the employment of an electrician, whose hiring had originally been scrapped by the PMO due to the man’s close connection to the Netanyahu family.
Saidoff is accused of falsifying documents that were used to circumvent the PMO’s original order that the electrician’s hiring be annulled.
Yehoshua Reznik, a lawyer for Saidoff, denied the charges, calling them “fundamentally wrong and inconsistent with the legal and factual situation as shown by the evidence in the case.”
The June 21 charges were reportedly based in part on testimony from Hefetz.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.