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TEL AVIV, Israel — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara spent almost as much on cleaning their private residence each month as the average Israeli worker earns in the same period, according to an official investigation that uncovered examples of "inappropriate" spending of taxpayers' money.
The average cost of cleaning Netanyahu’s residence in Caesarea reached 8,200 Israeli shekels ($2,120) per month in 2013 even though he and his family spend most of their time in their official residence in Jerusalem, according to the government report released Tuesday. The average Israeli salary was $2,376 in 2013, according to Haaretz newspaper.
The findings by State Comptroller Joseph Shapira, which come amid a bruising election campaign, also showed that food and entertainment expenses at the official residence in Jerusalem ballooned from 211,000 shekels ($54,545) in 2009 when Netanyahu came to office to 490,000 ($126,669) in 2013.
The comptroller did not mince words, calling some of the couple’s spending habits “inappropriate” and “greatly exaggerated.”
It also looks like the Netanyahus, who have two sons, have a taste for takeout food: The cost of ordering meals to the prime minister’s residence reached 71,851 shekels ($18,574) in 2010 — around 25 percent of total food costs for the residence — and in 2011 the cost of ordered-in meals reached 92,781 ($23,989) even though there was a full-time cook.
Netanyahu's party, Likud, released a statement saying the prime minister respected the report's findings and would forward with recommended reforms. But Likud also suggested that the report, and media coverage of it, was politically motivated.
Likud criticized the comptroller for including "inconsequential matters" in the report and for failing to compare the spending with other official residences in Israel, including the president's. "Among the items that were investigated in the Comptroller’s report, there is absolutely no indication of any assault on the public’s integrity and certainly no indication of any criminal transgressions," the Likud statement said.
Shapira's report stated that food and official entertainment expenses by Netanyahu, his family and his guests in the official residence in the years 2010, 2011 and to some extent in 2012 were "inconsistent with the basic principles of proportionality, reasonableness, frugality and efficiency."
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Sara Netanyahu's own spending habits did not escape notice either. The report found that the prime minister’s wife spent 2.5 times more on clothes and makeup was permitted by a Knesset committee that sets such spending limits.
While the report could lead to criminal charges being filed against the prime minister, its immediate impact is likely to be political, according to Gil Hoffman, senior political affairs correspondent of The Jerusalem Post newspaper.
“In the past, when there was a focus on Netanyahu’s personal expenditure, it didn’t hurt him," Hoffman said. “This time, the charges are being made not by the media that has an anti-Netanyahu reputation, but by the respected state comptroller who Netanyahu appointed.”
“If it leads to people seeing his as a chronic misuser of public funds, it plays into the hands of his main opposition, Yitzhak Herzog, of the Zionist Union, whose slogan is ‘Only suckers vote for Netanyahu.’”
— Yael Factor and F. Brinley Bruton
F. Brinley Bruton reported from London.