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Netanyahu mired in scandal over lavish spending ahead of elections

Report by independent auditor queries cleaning expenses and electrical work done by PM's friend on taxpayer-funded home
Independent auditor accuses Netanyahu of 'improper administration' (AFP)

Less than a month before Israel’s hotly-contested general elections, current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has become embroiled in an expenses scandal.

Netanyahu spent huge sums on cleaning, makeup and clothing between 2009 and 2013, according to a highly critical report released by Israel’s independent state comptroller on Tuesday.

The long-awaited report by Yosef Shapira, who reviews how the Israeli government operates, found that Netanyahu could face legal action over “improper administration”.

The report unearthed that, at their highest point in 2011, cleaning expenses for one of Netanyahu’s homes cost the Israeli taxpayer almost $285,000.

“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.

Israeli taxpayers pick up the bill for the maintenance of Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence and for his private home in the exclusive coastal city of Caesarea.

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.

The work was done by Avi Fahima, an electrician who is seen as close to the Netanyahus, with the two families known to have celebrated the Jewish-Moroccan holiday of Mimouna together in 2010.

According to the report, Fahima was summoned to do electrical work on an almost weekly basis over a three-month period. The report also noted that Fahima always charged higher weekend rates when visiting the property.

Netanyahu responded to be report by saying that it was an attempt to distract attention from the question of “who will protect Israel amid the tremendous security threats and international pressure.”

He also criticised the report for not comparing his expenses with those of other officials, claiming that spending at the president’s residence was 10 times higher than his own.

In addition to the taxpayer-funded houses, the Prime Minister also earns around $11,000 per month, compared to an estimated average of around $2,000 per month for ordinary Israelis.

The youth wing of Israel’s leftist Labour party, however, have launched a campaign intended to embarrass Netanyahu, sending campaigner into the streets to raise money for the Netanyahus.

“Their house is falling apart,” said activists captured in a video clip of the stunt. “Five million shekels [around $1.3m] isn’t enough for them to get by. Please help this needy family by contributing to them.”

Hours before Shapira released his report, anti-Netanyahu campaigners staged a separate stunt outside his Jerusalem residence.

Activists from V15, an independent anti-Netanyahu organisation mainly funded by American Jews, drove a moving truck past the house.

"He will have to move in a month, so we came to help him," said protester Hegai Hirshfeld. "We have already packed his corruption, his indecision, and his lies, so all he has to do is stand up and leave.”

V15 themselves are ensnared in financial scandal – the right-wing Likud party filed for an injunction against them this week over their foreign funding.