JERUSALEM — Israel’s government watchdog said yesterday that he is opening an investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign and travel spending, sparking the first significant scandal in the leader’s two years in office.
The state comptroller’s investigation follows a television news report last week that said Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, took expensive flights and had hotels and restaurant meals paid for by wealthy associates during the 10-year period between his first and second terms as prime minister.
The investigation does not pose any imminent danger to Netanyahu. Israel’s comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, only has the power to recommend action, and his inquiry marks a preliminary stage. But if it concludes there was wrongdoing, the matter could be turned over to prosecutors.
Netanyahu was a private citizen during parts of the time in question, but he also held a series of senior government posts, including finance minister. The report raised questions about whether the donors were trying to gain influence with Netanyahu.
Netanyahu said the news report accusations were “fabricated and tainted with hypocrisy’’ and filed a libel suit against the channel.
“There are journalists who don’t like me and don’t like the fact that I am prime minister,’’ he said in response to a question with YouTube’s World View Project. “The worst part is that to harm me they attack my wife.’’
In an emotional interview yesterday with Israel’s Channel 2 TV, Sara Netanyahu called the accusations “evil gossip.’’