Netanyahu sues over freebie claims

By Anshel Pfeffer, March 31, 2011

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has filed libel suits against Channel 10 and Ma'ariv newspaper over allegations that he accepted a series of expensive freebies from wealthy associates.

Last week, a Channel 10 report alleged that, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Mr Netanyahu took lavish foreign trips at the expense of Jewish organisations and private philanthropists.

And on Sunday, Ma'ariv published a cartoon which showed Mr Netanyahu walking through airport customs carrying a suitcase with money overflowing from it.

Lawyers for Mr Netanyahu argue that both the report and the cartoon were intended to harm him.

Mr Netanyahu's office described the Channel 10 report as "cheap, unfounded and slanderous gossip."

Meanwhile, State Comptroller Micah Lindenstrauss is to decide next week whether to launch a formal investigation into the allegations.

The Channel 10 report included a list of dozens of trips allegedly taken by Mr Netanyahu and his wife Sarah - and in some cases also their two sons - to Europe and North America.

In addition, the channel published a private list of Jewish millionaires who allegedly could be "relied upon" to finance the Netanyahu family's holidays abroad. The channel claims the Netanyahus did not pay for any of their flights or the hotels and resorts where they were put up.

If the allegations against him are correct, Mr Netanyahu could be in breach of the Knesset's ethical code that forbids acceptance of gifts and sponsors who have business dealings in Israel, and he may be also investigated for bribery.

Sources close to the prime minister said that all the trips paid for by foreign donors were for lectures he gave defending Israel.

His office also said: "The descriptions are ridiculous. For example, the number of trips ascribed to Ms Netanyahu is wrong and the sequence of events, holidays, alleged sponsors and circumstances of each trip is totally divorced from reality."

Last updated: 3:28pm, May 31 2011