AG: 'No Grounds' for 'BibiTours' Investigation

Criminal investigation into Prime Minister's travel expenses axed due to insufficient evidence; PMO has sued news site for libel.

Uzi Baruch, Tova Dvorin ,

Binyamin and Sara Netanyahu
Binyamin and Sara Netanyahu

The investigation into the travel spending habits of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) has ended, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced Thursday night, bringing what the Israeli media calls the "Bibitours affair" to a close.

In May 2013, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira announced that he would launch an investigation into rumors of the Netanyahu family's spending on state-funded trips, including trips made while Netanyahu was an MK. A Channel 10 investigation had alleged that the premier flew on private jets without clearing the expenses with the Knesset Ethics Committee. 

AG Weinstein declared the investigation closed Thursday, however, noting insufficient evidence. 

"According to the evidence gathered, there is no place to open an investigation on suspicion of committing of a criminal offense on the part of Binyamin Netanyahu," Weinstein wrote, saying that he has asked to close the case now "since there was no evidentiary basis for a criminal investigation."

"The Jerusalem District Attorney's Office and the State Attorney joined the police in their conclusion that, in their opinion, the evidence does not warrant grounds for further investigation, and that the findings will not hold up to the standards required for prosecution, due in part to the large time lapse involved," he continued. "After reviewing matters, I decided to adopt their position and finish the investigation now." 

The evidence examined included "arguments submitted against him, both in terms of financing for his flights abroad, as well as his stay there," he said. 

Israeli media began a hyper-focus on the Netanyahu family spending in 2011, after a Channel 10 reporter published an expose alleging that the prime minister and his wife used to double-bill their expenses on foreign excursions.

One main aspect of the investigation - and the only piece of concrete evidence Weinstein referred to in his report - was to a 2006 flight to and from the US, for which both a private organization and the Knesset were asked to foot Netanyahu's bill.

Weinstein clarified Thursday, however, that the specific flight was double-billed due to time considerations, not as an intentional skirting of Knesset protocol - and that, for that reason, Sarah Netanyahu's ticket was issued under a different bill from the prime minister's.

Rather than legal action against Netanyahu, it is Channel 10 which has paid the price for the expose, Walla! News notes. The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has sued the news site for libel for a sum of 3.5 million shekel ($972,000), according to PMO attorney David Shomron, who stated Netanyahu's version of events at a press conference. 

"Since the mid-50s, as far as I know, there has not been such a severe and damaging case of defamation as this event's expose from Channel 10," Shomron said. "The expose constitutes a consecutive set, from beginning to end, of incorrect, malicious smears - and some statements which were negligent to the extreme."

"We found ourselves in a place where we had no choice but to sue for libel," he added.