Ombudsman said checking purchase of table by Netanyahu’s office for Trump visit

New furniture was purchased even though existing items were also sent for repair, says TV report; attorney general to decide whether it warrants probe

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and his wife Sara, second right, host US president Donald Trump, left, and his wife Melania at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and his wife Sara, second right, host US president Donald Trump, left, and his wife Melania at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira has conducted a review of furniture that was purchased by the Prime Minister’s Office in preparation for last year’s visit of US President Donald Trump on suspicion of irregularities in the spending spree, television news reported on Sunday.

Shapira launched his probe after the PMO’s internal ombudsman compiled a report six months ago that found that a new table was bought for the Prime Minister’s Residence even though existing furniture was also sent for repair ahead of Trump’s arrival, Channel 10 reported.

According to the report, Shapira is “expected to determine that there are criminal aspects” in the financial conduct of senior officials at the Prime Minister’s Office and official residence concerning the purchase.

In June, Channel 10 reported the PMO comptroller found that senior officials contacted the Haasam furniture shop without issuing a required tender and ordered a new table, even though an old table had been sent for repair and was later returned to the residence. The total sum involved in services, which weren’t offered as a government-issued tender, was NIS 70,000 ($18,000), the television report said.

Some of those involved have already been questioned about the matter by the PMO comptroller and by Shapira.

The document will be transferred to the attorney general, who will decide if there are grounds to open an investigation, Channel 10 said. In June, the attorney general received for review the PMO internal comptroller report about the matter.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement the new table was bought to replace decades-old furniture, but due to concerns that it would not be delivered in time for Trump’s arrival, the existing table and chairs were also repaired.

“The President of the United States should not be greeted with plastic furniture,” the statement said. “Therefore, professionals at the Prime Minister’s Office sought to replace a 30-year-old dinner table. When the supplier couldn’t meet the timetable we fixed existing tables as an alternative and replaced the padding on chairs.”

The Netanyahus hosted Trump and his wife Melanie for dinner at the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem during the US leader’s trip to the country in May 2017.

Netanyahu’s wife Sara is currently on trial for fraud concerning financial irregularities at the prime minster’s residence. Last month she agreed to go to criminal arbitration after prosecutors approved the move.

Sara Netanyahu — along with Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Residence — faces charges of fraud and breach of trust for allegedly overspending roughly NIS 360,000 ($100,000) on private meals at the prime minister’s official residence, while there was a full-time chef on staff.

The prime minister’s wife has long faced allegations of extravagant living and abusive behavior. Previous state comptroller reports have found she repeatedly tried to get funding for their private residence, including one instance when she purchased furniture, apparently for the official residence in Jerusalem, and then moved it to the Netanyahus’ private residence in Caesarea, while older furniture was taken back from Caesarea to the residence in Jerusalem.

The Netanyahus have denied any wrongdoing, and say they are the victims of a political witch hunt driven by a hostile media.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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