A claim that Sara, wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pocketed thousands of shekels from recycled bottles appears to have had little effect so far on the country’s voters, as the latest polls indicate that Netanyahu’s party maintains its lead ahead of next month’s general election.
The Guardian issued a report on what has quickly become known as “bottlegate”, saying that Sara Netanyahu is alleged to have instructed her staff to take empty bottles from state functions at the prime minister’s official residence to a supermarket for recycling, and then hand the cash over to her.
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The prime minister has himself confirmed that in 2013 his wife wrote a check to the state for 4, 000 shekels (roughly $1, 000), which he maintained is the total sum that had accrued at the residence from the bottles, which Sara used as petty cash, the Guardian said.
However a former employee of the Netanyahus, Mani Naftali, who is suing the couple over various grievances, claims the amount pocketed was more like $6, 000. Since Sara Netanyahu is being treated as a private individual and not a government official, state comptroller Joseph Shapira handed the case over to the attorney general, who has instructed police to begin an examination, according to the report.
In a Facebook post responding to the claims, Netanyahu dismissed the controversy as a story being recycled by the media in an effort to try and topple his Likud party and bring a “leftwing” government into power in next month’s election, the Guardian said.
Separately, the state comptroller announced on Monday that he will publish a comprehensive report on the alleged exorbitant spending by the prime minister at his official residence and the excessive use of state funds for personal consumption, the report said.
The report, prepared over the last eight months following complaints, is due to be published on February 17, exactly one month before the election. Netanyahu’s lawyer, David Shimron, was denied an appeal to have its publication delayed till after the election, according to the Guardian.
Shapira told the attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, that there is credible evidence the prime minister committed “a violation of ethics that could amount to criminal offences”, Israel’s Channel 10 reported. A statement from the prime minister’s office said “it will be proven that everything was done legally”, the report said.
Tzipi Livni, co-leader of the opposition Zionist Union, took the opportunity to criticize the prime minister. “The price of the alcohol Netanyahu drinks in a month is like the monthly salary of nearly 1 million workers in Israel, ” she said at a public event. Netanyahu’s lawyer released a statement claiming that in 2009 and 2010, only 88, 964 shekels were spent on booze, the Guardian said.
The latest scandal has seemingly not affected Netanyahu in the polls, which in recent days show Likud ahead of Zionist Union.
“Israelis don’t trust the media or the legal system, ” Professor Yedidia Stern of the Israel Democracy Institute told the Guardian. “Those that have consistently voted for Netanyahu are not doing so because of his personality, but because they don’t see any substitute on the right.”
Meanwhile, Haaretz reported that Sara Netanyahu continued to keep money owed to the state from recycled bottles even after the Netanyahu’s lawyer indicated to the attorney general that the practice had stopped.