The Prime Minister’s official residence in Jerusalem has apparently taken over an adjacent historic building and turned it into part of the compound without informing municipal authorities or receiving the necessary permits.
Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the residence has over the last seven years closed off all access to the Salman Schocken house on Smolenskin Street, and used it for its own purposes, including housing staff members of Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit, according to an investigation published Monday by Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site.
The extravagant villa, built in the 1930s for Schocken, the Jewish publisher and businessman, was later sold to the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and some twenty years ago was purchased by a group of foreign businessmen.
In recent years, security guards at the PM’s residence have added the compound to the area cordoned off to the public, and deny access to it. Officials in the Jerusalem Municipality were unaware of any requests to renovate the building and re-purpose it as part of the residence.
The case came to light during court proceedings last week in a libel case filed by Menny Naftali, a former employee in the residence against Netanyahu associates. A defendant in the case — former Netanyahu adviser Nir Hefetz, who is a state witness against the premier in criminal cases against him — presented photos of a team allegedly assembled by the premier to plan moves against Naftali.
It was then that Naftali whispered to his lawyer that the photos had been taken at the Schocken house, according to the attorney, Gonen Ben Yitzhak.
Naftali told Zman Israel that when Putin visited Israel, Ezra Saidoff, former deputy director of the Prime Minister’s Office, suggested that the delegation be housed at the deserted compound. He said the place was immediately renovated at a cost of NIS 70,000 ($20,200).
Since then, Netanyahu’s residence has made use of the place for more activities, including filming live broadcasts by the prime minister.
The municipality and the Prime Minister’s Office, as well as Saidoff, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.