The Finance Ministry blocked a request for NIS 450,000 ($125,000) of funding to renovate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s private residence in Caesarea, Channel 10 reported Sunday.
The request for the funding was made to Eli Bitan, the top accountant of the Prime Minister’s Office and its top legal adviser, Shlomit Barnea Farago. The two felt the request was excessive, so asked for a legal opinion from the Finance Ministry, which rejected the application, the report said.
Government protocol is that the state must maintain the prime minister’s private residence, but may not make improvements. The ministry ruled that the amount requested would constitute renovations to improve the home, rather than simply maintain it.
The Netanyahus bought the Caesarea home from a court receiver and according to professional assessments it was not in a good state when they purchased it.
The state has authorized extensive renovations to Balfour House, the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem. However, the Netanyahu family doesn’t want that work to begin until they are able to move temporarily into their own home in Caesarea. And they won’t move there until the maintenance work is completed.
After the request for NIS 450,000 was rejected, the Prime Minister’s Office came back with a lower request, for NIS 100,000 ($27,500) to seal up the roof and basement to make it watertight. The state has not yet made a decision on whether to approve this lower amount.
In response to the state’s rejection of the initial request, the PMO gave the following statement to Channel 10:
“This is not improvement but maintaining the existing structure including serious issues of safety and maintenance which were not dealt with in previous years,” the statement said. “This goes against the protocol which requires the state to maintain the homes of prime ministers.”
His office also stressed that it would be cheaper for the prime minister and his family to move into their Caesarea home while the renovations were going on in the Jerusalem residence rather than have to be put up in a hotel.
The report comes as Sara Netanyahu appeared at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Sunday for the opening of her trial on charges of fraud and breach of trust, sitting in the courtroom for the first time as a criminal defendant.
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, even when there was a full-time chef on staff.
The Netanyahus have denied any wrongdoing, and say they are the victims of a political witch hunt driven by a hostile media.
Sara Netanyahu has long faced allegations of extravagant living and abusive behavior. In 2016, a court ruled she abused an employee and awarded the man $42,000 in damages. Other former employees have accused her of mistreatment, charges the Netanyahus have vehemently denied, and of excessive spending and charging the state for her private, expensive tastes.
This has included state comptroller reports that 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.
There have also been reports that police were investigating whether she asked an Israeli-born Hollywood mogul at the center of a corruption case involving the prime minister to help cover tens of thousands of shekels worth of repairs to their swimming pool at their private residence.