Netanyahu accused of illegally using public bonus miles for private travel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu © Ronen Zvulun
Israel's state comptroller has slammed Benjamin Netanyahu in a new report, for his conduct in what has been dubbed the ‘Bibi Tours Affair’. It centers on the prime minister's possible double billing and using public bonus miles for personal use.

The allegations in Joseph Shapira's report, due to be published later on Tuesday, deal with Netanyahu's time as finance minister, from March 2003 to August 2005.

The document reviews Netanyahu's flights during that time, as well as the flights of his family members overseas. The summary specifically states that at first glance, his travels “departed from the rules which apply to the issue,” according to the Jerusalem Post.

It notes funding for flights provided by non-government sources including Israel Bonds, and states that Netanyahu never consulted the appropriate state committee for gifts or approvals about whether accepting funding for travels – especially from private sector sources – might constitute receiving an illegal gift or benefit.

The paper specifically states that all that was submitted were requests for approval from the government to take trips, but that details regarding the trips, their purposes, or the list of family members coming along were not submitted, nor were the sources of funding.

The report goes on to mention payment of costs by Netanyahu's former bureau chief as finance minister, as well as discrepancies in the process by which the government approved ministers' overseas travel requests.

Although the document stops short of demanding a criminal investigation, it stresses that new evidence about Netanyahu's conduct has been brought to the attention of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit. Shapira hints that only a full criminal probe will clear any uncertainty over Netanyahu's behavior.

An initial probe in September 2014 ended without a full criminal investigation, as former Attorney-General Yahuda Weinstein declined to pursue one, stating at the time that “it could not be found that there was a basis to open a full criminal investigation.”

That conclusion did not rest well with Shapira, who continued investigating on his own. The result of that digging is the Tuesday report. And despite all of the allegations enclosed in the document, he stressed that he left out aspects of more serious potential charges, as those accusations are expected to soon be probed by Mandelblit.

The report is the latest in a string of alleged misuse of public funds by Netanyahu, including 'Bottlegate,' under which he faced allegations that his wife had stolen thousands of dollars’ worth of state funds from bottles returned to local supermarkets. In 2013, Netanyahu landed in hot water over 'Bedgate,' in which it was alleged that he and his wife had a custom $127,000 bedchamber built for a flight to London.