Wednesday, February 21, 2018
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Israel's Netanyahu suspected of 'criminal conduct'

Israeli state comptroller issues report accusing PM of not disclosing details of foreign-funded trips a decade ago.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been criticised following a state comptroller report that concluded his financial records raise "suspicions of criminal conduct".

Published on Tuesday, the State Comptroller Joseph Shapira's report noted that many of Netanyahu's trips - including several with his family - were funded by foreign governments, public bodies and businessmen.

Netanyahu did not report any of the trips to government committees which determine whether the funding can be considered illegal gifts and thus a breach of Israeli law.

The report focuses on Netanyahu's travels between 2002 and 2005, when he was the country's finance minister.

"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," the report said.

Netanyahu, through his lawyers, has denied any wrongdoing, and it was not immediately clear whether Israel's attorney general, who is also examining the issue, would launch any criminal investigation.

Netanyahu's attorneys said the travel involved appearances at fundraising events for Israel in which - as the comptroller's report noted - host organisations abroad would pay for their guests' expenses.

Netanyahu, like other ministers at the time, Shapira found, had not provided full details of funding for their trips to a government committee, which the report said gave "rubber stamp approval" of their travel on official business.

On many of his trips, Netanyahu - who is now in his fourth term as prime minister - was accompanied by his wife Sara, and the couple, at times, also took along their two sons.

In 2014, then Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein closed an initial probe of Netanyahu's foreign travel, saying available evidence provided no grounds for a criminal investigation.

But in his report, Shapira said new material has since been presented to Weinstein's successor, Avichai Mandelblit, at the new attorney general's request.

Suspicions of criminal activity have focused on whether there were instances when organisations were double-billed for Netanyahu's travel and expenses.

David Shimron, a lawyer for the Netanyahu family, said "there was no double-billing", and that the Israeli leader had "raised tens of millions of dollars for Israel Bonds", which underwrite securities issued by the State of Israel.

"During the relevant period, he behaved like everyone else - the report says - when it came to getting permission and approvals," Shimron told Israel's Army Radio. "So if he's not OK, no one is OK."

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