Comptroller’s report: Netanyahu family spent excessive public funds

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be facing a criminal investigation following a government report that said he and his family spent public funds excessively on personal items.

The report issued Tuesday by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira cited the excessive spending at the official prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem and at the family’s private home in Caesarea. Among the categories of excessive expenditure are food, cleaning and clothing expenses.

Evidence from the report was forwarded to Israel’s attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, for a possible criminal probe.

Among the affairs that could be criminally prosecuted are the so-called bottle and garden furniture affairs.

In the bottle affair, the prime minister’s wife, Sara, is accused of pocketing funds received from recycling state-funded beverage bottles. In the garden furniture affair, the Netanyahus are accused of purchasing new furniture for their private home that was intended for the official residence.

The report also found that cleaning expenses at the Netanyahus’ official and private residences doubled from 2009 to 2011 to about $280,000 at the official residence alone, though after publicity they came down in 2012 and 2013.

Food and hosting costs also nearly doubled between 2009 and 2011 to nearly $106,000, according to the report. The costs dropped to about $58,500 by 2013.

In addition, more than one-quarter of the food costs for 2010 and slightly less for 2011 were for outside meals, despite the fact that there is a paid cook on staff.

The report said that “in light of the noteworthy reduction in costs in 2013, it can be established that the economic costs of the prime minister, his family and their guests in the official residences, and especially during the years 2010-2011, and to a lesser extent even in 2012, were not commensurate with the bedrock principles of proportionality, reasonability, saving and efficiency.”

Shapira also said that finances at the prime minister residence were poorly managed and lacked appropriate budgeting practices.

In response to the report, the Likud Party headed by Netanyahu released a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

“To our sincere regret, the ongoing media campaign which has surrounded this issue for weeks in advance of the report’s release was a clear effort to remove the Prime Minister from office and the Likud from leadership through a focus on irrelevant minutia and distract from the real issues at hand,” the statement said.

“Among the items that were investigated in the Comptroller’s report, there is absolutely no indication of any assault on the public’s integrity and certainly no indication of any criminal transgressions,” the statement added, noting that the expenses of the prime minister’s residence have been “reduced significantly” over the past two years.