One month before voters head to the polls for Israel's national elections, Israeli State Comptroller Yosef Shapira released the long-anticipated findings of an inquiry into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's living and hospitality expenses, detailing a lavish lifestyle buttressed by the excessive and potentially illegal use of taxpayer funds.
Accusations of improper conduct have long swirled around the prime minister's wife, Sara Netanyahu, and Shapira's report provides documented corroboration to what Netanyahu defenders have long insisted was baseless gossip. The report comes as Sara Netanyahu has confronted charges of worker mistreatment in a civil court case.
The Guardian highlights two areas of potentially criminal behavior detailed in the comptroller's report:
The claims of potential illegal conduct centre on two issues: the so called “bottle-gate affair which saw Sara Netanyahu pocket deposits on bottles of drinks paid for by the state, later reimbursed; and over claims that garden furniture bought for the official residence was sent to their private home.
Among the report's most sensational findings was that taxpayers paid for the cleaning of the Netanyahus' private beach resort at a cost of $2,120 per month; the average pretax salary for an Israeli worker is $2,376, according to a report from the country's Central Bureau of Statistics. Between 2009 and 2013, today's report states, cleaning costs at the Netanyahus' two homes increased 100 percent with no apparent reason; maintenance at the official residence alone already stood at $138,000 in 2009.
Moreover, while the Netanyahus enjoy a cook and full staff paid for at government expense, Shapira's report finds that the couple billed the state $18,000 for takeout meals in a single year. Such spending, Shapira writes, “was inconsistent with basic principles of proportionality, reasonability, effectiveness and thrift.’’
Controversially, the report reveals some Netanyahu employees paid some of the Netanyahus' personal expenses out of their own pockets, without ever being reimbursed.
“The meaning of a failure to pay back these invoices from petty cash is that employees absorb the cost of private expenditures of the prime minister or his family,” the report states. “When an employee is forced to pay from his own pocket for an expenditure by the prime minister, this is improper administration and it makes no difference whether the sum is large or small.”
A Shapira spokesman told the Israeli daily Haaretz that the comptroller sees sufficient evidence to consider a criminal investigation.
While most political analysts forecast that Netanyahu will likely secure a fourth term in the March 17 elections, polls show a close race between Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party and the center-left alliance Zionist Union, with many undecided voters and signs that those who have yet to make their minds are leaning toward the Zionist Union.