An Israeli government watchdog has criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for travel expenses incurred during his stint as the finance minister between 2003 and 2005. In a report released Tuesday, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira said Netanyahu’s financial records raise “suspicions of criminal conduct.”
“The trips by Netanyahu and his family that were funded by external sources when he was finance minister deviated from the rules, and could give the impression of receiving a gift or of a conflict of interest,” Shapira said in the report, noting that many of Netanyahu’s trips were funded by foreign governments, public bodies and businessmen.
The ombudsman — which also has been critical of the “excessive” expenditure Netanyahu incurred between 2010 and 2012 in his previous term as the prime minister — found that during many of his trips as the finance minister, he was accompanied by his family. Moreover, the report said, he failed to provide full details of the funding for the trips to a government committee, which still gave a “rubber-stamp approval.”
According to local newspaper Haaretz, the report has raised concerns over “lack of clarity concerning accounting with El Al [the flag carrier of Israel] regarding the Netanyahu family’s use of bonus points belonging to the state that were allegedly used for private travel” and over “suspicion of double billing and diversion of funds.”
“The trips by Netanyahu and his family that were funded by external sources when he was finance minister deviated from the applicable rules, and could create the impression of receiving benefits or conflicts of interest. Netanyahu never contacted the gifts committee or the permit committee to examine whether accepting external funding [for trips] constituted an improper benefit or forbidden gift,” Shapira reportedly said.
However, David Shimron, a lawyer for the Netanyahu family, rejected the allegations of double billing, stating that Netanyahu had "behaved like everyone else" during the period under consideration.
"So if he's not okay, no one is okay," Shimron reportedly said.