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Netanyahu to be probed over public cash abuses

A damning report by the State Comptroller said that Netanyahu spent up to $230,000 on cleaning fees in 2011 alone
Prime Minister Netanyahu is currently campaigning for the upcoming elections due on 3 March (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to be probed over allegations of fiscal misconduct at his private and official residence.

Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Thursday ordered a preliminary investigation, which will determine whether or not a criminal investigation will eventually be launched to deal with the misdemeanours.

However, the attorney general has stressed that at this stage the investigations are not focusing in on the prime minister personally and noted that the probe will not begin before the election on 17 March where Netanyahu is vying for re-election.  

"One must note that in the material accumulated to this point, there is no evidence that raises the suspicion of involvement of the prime minister himself in the said deeds," the statement reads. 

The announcement follows a scathing report by the State Comptroller, which queried huge sums spent on cleaning, makeup and clothing between 2009 and 2013.

The long-awaited report by Yosef Shapira, who reviews how the Israeli government operates, unearthed that at their highest point in 2011, cleaning expenses for one of Netanyahu’s homes cost the Israeli taxpayer almost $285,000. Netanyahu and the First Lady only spend the occasional weekend there, but monthly cleaning costs for the house averaged more than $2,100 over the four-year period, the report found.

The document also queried a large amount of electrical work carried out at the private residence by a personal friend of the Netanyahu's.

“In light of the large cleaning costs, the [Prime Minister’s Office] should examine...their prudence and act to avoid unnecessary expenditures," Shapiro wrote in the report.

Netanyahu, his wife Sara, and their allegedly lavish lifestyles have taken centre stage in the elections so far with the opposition Zionist Union camp taking aim at the couple and their various misdemeanours. Claims that Sara pocket profits from a bottle recycling scheme, nicknamed bottlegate, and old allegations that she abuses her staff have all been making the rounds in the press.

Sara Netanyahu was again thrust to the centre of the election campaign on Friday after the release of an alleged transcript of her ranting down the phone to the wife of a political rival during the war in Gaza last summer.

The transcript – written up by an an Israeli journalist who has heard the tape – was published as Sara Netanyahu gave a lengthy interview in which she alleged her enemies were trying to humiliate her in their determination to get at her husband.

Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is nervous that the audio tape itself will be released to embarrass him on the eve of the 17 March elections in which, polls suggest, he is trailing his main rival, Yitzhak Herzog.

Big Speech

Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to US Congress has attracted growing furore.

Republican lawmakers earlier this year invited Netanyahu to address Congress on the Iran nuclear programme without the approval of the White House, which called the move a “breach of protocol” and said that Obama would not meet with Netanyahu during his visit.

Several key Democrats have since pulled out of the 3 March address citing “diary clashes” while National Security Advisor Susan Rice pointedly described Netanyahu's speech and the manner it came about as injecting a measure of partisanship that was "destructive of the fabric of the relationship" between the two countries.

Shortly after her comments on Wednesday, Netanyahu raised temperatures further when he turned down an invitation to meet with US Senate Democrats saying he “could compound the misperception of partisanship”. His office has since backtracked, saying that Netanyahu will meet with US Democrats as well as Republicans but tensions remain high.

Obama on Thursday announced that he will send close allies National Security Advisor Susan Rice and America’s UN envoy Samantha Power to speak to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at its conference next week.

The body, which self-identifies as America's pro-Israel lobby, has traditionally been a strong backer of Netanyahu. However, reports emerged in Al-Monitor on Thursday that an AIPAC head said that the group was “in shock” over Netanyahu's decision to go against the White House, with the speech being AIPAC’s “Day of Atonement,” and “the lowest point we have ever reached”.