The deputy director of operations at the Prime Minister’s Office, Ezra Saidoff, was questioned under caution by the Israel Police’s serious crimes unit on Sunday, as part of an ongoing investigation into alleged financial irregularities at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence.
The probe by the Lahav 433 unit into Saidoff comes after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein in July ordered a criminal investigation into the cash management at the prime minister’s Jerusalem residence. Weinstein said that neither Netanyahu nor his wife, Sara, were considered suspects.
He did say, however, that he would hand over evidence regarding Saidoff to the Civil Service Commission, the government unit that oversees personnel, so that it could consider suspending him from his post.
The decision to launch the investigation came following the state prosecutor’s recommendations, after allegations were raised in a report February by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira that detailed lavish spending by Netanyahu and his wife at their official residence in Jerusalem, as well as at their private home in Caesarea. The report also alleged possible criminal misdeeds by the two.
The investigation found multiple alleged irregularities, including in the hiring of electrician Avi Fahima, a Likud Central Committee member. A committee charged with overseeing residence expenditures — and which included the Prime Minister’s Office legal adviser — ruled against the hiring of Fahima, but he was employed nonetheless.
In the Fahima case, the State Comptroller report criticized Sara Netanyahu for ordering the electrician’s services at the public’s expense without any external audit of the need for those services, or any confirmation that they were carried out.
For several months in 2010, the comptroller found, Fahima did not produce receipts for his labor, and allegedly received fees far higher than those that appeared in his initial cost estimates.
On the basis of the State Comptroller’s report, criminal charges could also be filed over the accusation that Sara Netanyahu pocketed some NIS 4,000 ($1,035) of refunds from recycling bottles. The report also included accusations that she purchased a set of patio furniture identical to the patio furniture at the official residence, which was subsequently delivered to the Netanyahus’ private residence.
The report on the expenditures of the PM’s residence came out in the midst of an election campaign and found that the residence operated for years without an audited budget. It raised questions about the use of public funds, which were spent on — among other things — the upkeep of the Netanyahus’ pool at their private Caesarea home.
The report also noted that, beginning in 2013 — when criticism led to heightened awareness of the issue among the prime minister’s staff — a systematic, audited budget was instituted and expenditures declined precipitously.