Israeli watchdog to investigate Netanyahu trips

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 31, 2011 3:28 PM

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's State Comptroller said on Thursday he would investigate allegations of improper private funding of overseas trips Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife made before he became prime minister in 2009.

Netanyahu has denied the allegations broadcast last week in a report on Israel's Channel 10 Television, calling them part of a "slanderous campaign" against him.

The report accused Netanyahu of extravagant spending on first-class tickets and lavish hotel rooms paid for by private donors, some with business interests in Israel, during a period before he was elected for a second time two years ago.

A statement from Israel's State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss said he would "examine funding of travel by private agents not complying with the regulations against conflict of interests."

Netanyahu responded to the allegations before the comptroller spoke, after he was asked about them on a live YouTube forum on Wednesday.

"This is an orchestrated campaign against me... I want to tell the people who are acting against me that I am here to stay for many years," Netanayhu said.

Netanyahu's office has also said in a statement there was no fault in trips he made between 2002 and 2008, when he served as finance minister and a parliament member. Netanyahu was also prime minister from 1996 to 1999.

CORRUPTION AT THE TOP

Under Israeli law, the state comptroller could refer the case to the police for further criminal investigation, if he were to conclude he had found incriminating evidence.

Police in 1999 investigated Netanyahu and his wife Sara on suspicions they accepted free services from a private contractor and kept official gifts when he left office. No charges were brought against them in that case.

A number of Israeli politicians have been convicted of various offences over the past few years.

Two former cabinet ministers are presently in jail for bribery and theft. Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, is on trial for several corruption cases, including charges he double-billed organisations for foreign travel expenses.

Israel's former president Moshe Katsav was convicted in December of rape and other sexual offences and sentenced earlier this month to seven years in jail.

(Writing by Maayan Lubell; editing by Mark Trevelyan)