Attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit (R) said he had given the go-ahead for inquiries into a "matter" involving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defining the case as "an examination and not a criminal investigation into the prime minister"
Jerusalem (AFP) - Israel's attorney general has said he would approve a criminal probe of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if "reasonable" grounds were found, countering charges that the two men are too close.
In July, the attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, said he had given the go-ahead for inquiries into a "matter" involving Netanyahu, defining the case as "an examination and not a criminal investigation into the prime minister".
Israeli media said it concerned suspicions of fraud and money laundering against Netanyahu's former chief of staff, Ari Harrow.
Mandelblit, who was appointed attorney general in February after serving for three years as Netanyahu's cabinet secretary, has been accused by some media of dragging his feet over the case.
Yediot Aharonot newspaper on Monday quoted extensively from an interview given by Mandelblit for a coming edition of the Israel Bar Association's magazine in which he says his actions are strictly professional.
"No one has an interest in delaying the probe. No one derives any benefit from it being delayed," he said.
"If reasonable suspicion comes to light, it will turn into a criminal investigation — and I don’t care who the subject is."
At this stage that is not the case, Mandelblit said, "but the examination is still not over, and changes are always a possibility".
According to Haaretz newspaper, Harrow was suspected of involvement in the fictitious sale of a business supposedly worth $3 million.
It is not the first time that the premier's name has been linked with impropriety although he has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
In June, he acknowledged receiving money from French tycoon Arnaud Mimran, who was sentenced to eight years in jail over a $315-million scam involving the trade of carbon emissions permits and the taxes on them.
In May, Israel's state comptroller released a critical report about Netanyahu's foreign trips, some with his wife and children, between 2003 and 2005 when he was finance minister.
And there have been allegations the couple spent public funds on garden furniture and electrical repairs at their private villa in the coastal resort of Caesarea.
Also, a former butler has accused Sara Netanyahu of pocketing cash from deposit refunds for empty bottles returned from the official residence between 2009 and 2013, money that should have gone to the treasury.
In 2013, Netanyahu reimbursed the state $1,000 but the butler has said the figure should have been six times higher.
On Monday, a new row was brewing after reports Netanyahu had petitioned a Jerusalem court to block a freedom of information request from a local NGO which wants details of his official spending on his family's laundry made public.
Israeli Channel 10 TV reporter Raviv Drucker posted online what he said was the title page of Netanyahu's 27-page request.
Israeli public radio quoted Netanyahu as saying on his return home Monday night from a trip to New York that the "interest in his laundry is sheer pettiness and even the prime minister has a right to privacy".