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New corruption allegations over flights costs leveled against PM

Nearly half of journeys taken by Netanyahu when he was finance minister were double billed, says Channel 10

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, sit aboard a plane at Ben Gurion Airport on on 24 August 2009 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, sit aboard a plane at Ben Gurion Airport on on 24 August 2009 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

Nearly half of all the flights taken by Benjamin Netanyahu while he was finance minister (from 2003-5) were double-billed and all the flights he took during the period improperly generated surplus cash which could be spent on other parts of the trips, Channel 10 News alleged Monday.

Forty-five percent of the flights were financed both by the treasury and by other bodies or individuals, the channel reported.

And while Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service paid for Netanyahu’s bodyguards while he was overseas, those who invited Netanyahu were asked to pay for them as well.

These hitherto unpublished findings prompted State Comptroller Yosef Shapira to ask Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to open a criminal probe, Channel 10 News said.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira presents the State Comptroller's Report in the Knesset on November 1, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira presents the State Comptroller’s Report in the Knesset on November 1, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Several weeks ago, Mandelblit announced he was closing a probe of alleged double billings by Netanyahu — apparently, Channel 10 said, because the legal time during which charges could be brought had run out.

But, said the report, “a senior law enforcement source” had told the program, “The fact that the file was closed should not under any circumstances be interpreted to mean that things were done properly. Far from it. A lot of problems were found, to say the least.”

Netanyahu was not probed on the findings and therefore had no opportunity to provide his version of events.

The Justice Ministry said, “Following additional information received on this issue, people involved in organizing the Prime Minister’s flights were interviewed and many documents were examined from the relevant period. But the new evidence did not justify opening a new investigation.”

A spokesman for Netanyahu said, “There was no double billing and for that reason the case was closed. This is a desperate and improper attempt by [investigative journalist Raviv] Drucker to renew the case.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boards a plane to Russia, Tuesday, May 14, 2013 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boards a plane to Russia, Tuesday, May 14, 2013 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Allegations about Netanyahu’s flights — subsequently dubbed the “Bibi Tours scandal” by the Israeli press — first came to light during a 2011 Channel 10 report by Drucker, in which he claimed Netanyahu had traveled abroad at the expense of various businessmen and foreign Jewish groups during his time as foreign minister and a Likud member of Knesset.

Drucker said that Netanyahu did not receive approval from the Knesset Ethics Committee for all of the flights funded by foreigners, and concluded that the Netanyahus were guilty of accepting illegal gifts.

At the time, Netanyahu’s lawyer, David Shimron, said that one of the flights in question — to New York in 2006 — was funded by the Knesset, while the flight for his wife, Sara, was funded by a Jewish group. Shimron claimed Mrs. Netanyahu’s flight was registered under her husband’s name, indicating double-billing that did not happen.

In September 2014, then Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein closed the case, dubbed the Bibi Tours scandal by the Israeli press.

“There’s no real chance that additional investigations, and even a criminal investigation, would lead to findings of a sufficient level to lead to a trial due to the long time that has passed since the events transpired,” Weinstein said in a statement at a the time.

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