Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under fire again as official residence expenses near £1m

Further embarrassment for PM as household spending increases by 80 per cent in just three years

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The Independent Online

For the second time in as many days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under fire over the use of taxpayers’ money after it was revealed that spending at his official residence has increased by 80 per cent in just the last three years.

The latest embarrassment comes just 48 hours after it was revealed that Mr Netanyahu ordered that a bedroom, complete with double bed, be specially fitted to the plane he used to fly to London last month to attend the funeral of Baroness Thatcher – at a cost to the Israeli taxpayer of $127,000, for the five and a half hour flight.

Mr Netanyahu spent a total of 5.43 million shekels (£975,000) on his household in 2012, up from 3.02 million in 2009. The prime minister is likely to be accused of profligacy with public funds, especially at a time when the latest Israeli budget, which passed through the Knesset on Monday, imposes income tax hikes and big cuts in public and military spending.

At a protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, as many as 12,000 people marched in the streets demanding an end to the budget cuts, which are largely perceived as an attack on the pockets of the middle classes.

The details of Mr Netanyahu’s spending at his official residence, which he shares with his wife Sara, are likely to cause acute embarrassment.

The Netanyahus spent 480,000 shekels on food and hosting guests last year, up from 214,000 shekels in 2009; the amount laid out on cleaning went up from 553,000 shekels three years ago to 1.2 million shekels in 2012; the amount spent items such as clothes; make-up and hairstyling jumped by nearly double in 2012 to 64,000 shekels, from 33,000 shekels in 2009.

However, perhaps most controversially, 318,000 shekels were spent on the family’s private villa in the upmarket coastal resort Caesarea.

Details of the use of taxpayers’ money only came to light following a petition to the Jerusalem District Supreme Court by the Movement for Freedom of Information. A lawyer for the group, Ofer Doron, said: “We can only hope that next time we will not require a legal procedure to get such basic information.”

“The amounts published regarding the prime minister's official residence include expenditures on formal events which are held at the prime minister’s residence, as well as the numerous work-related meetings that take place at the compound,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

“In recent months the prime minister’s office accountant has conducted an analysis which calls for separating the budget for ceremonial events and work meetings at the prime minister’s residence [from private expenses].”

It is not the first time details of Mr Netanyahu’s spending has left him red-faced. In February, it was revealed that his residence had spent more than £2,000 a year on ice-cream, bought from a favourite parlour down the road from his official Jerusalem home.

Writing in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, the Israeli journalist and author, Shimon Shiffer revealed that, “a week ago I asked one of the new ministers what surprised him most about the cabinet meetings. What surprised me, replied the minister, was that Netanyahu comes to every meeting and discussion heavily made-up. When I looked into the matter, said the minister, I learned that a pair of hair-dressers and makeup artists apply themselves every morning to the prime minister and his wife’s faces and hair.”

Out of control?: Overspend in numbers

Food and hospitality: NIS 480,000

Cleaning: NIS 1.2m

Furniture and household items: NIS 110,000

Clothes, hairdressing and make-up: NIS 64,000

Private seaside villa: NIS 318,000

Ice-cream: NIS 10,000

Double bedroom installed on a plane to London: NIS 460,000