Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, presented herself Thursday afternoon at the Lod headquarters of the Israel Police high-profile crime unit, for questioning under caution over allegations of spending irregularities at the prime minister’s official and private residences.
The questioning by the Lahav 433 unit, which lasted some six-seven hours, focused on a number of alleged monetary issues connected with the prime minister’s residences.
The investigation went forward despite a request by the family’s lawyer to close the probe.
In order to avoid the expected heavy media presence, Netanyahu received special permission to enter the compound in her official car, Army Radio reported.
Last week, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein rejected an urgent request by Netanyahus’ attorney for a meeting ahead of his decision on whether to order an investigation into her conduct.
Weinstein in July had ordered a criminal investigation into financial management at the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem. He said at the time, however, that neither the prime minister nor his wife were considered suspects.
The decision to launch the investigation followed a recommendation from State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, after allegations were raised in a February report by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira that detailed lavish spending by Netanyahu and his wife at their official residence in Jerusalem and private home in Caesarea. The report also alleged possible criminal misdeeds.
The investigation highlighted multiple suspected irregularities, including in the hiring of electrician Avi Fahima, a Likud Central Committee member. A committee charged with overseeing residence expenditures — and which included the Prime Minister’s Office legal adviser — had ruled against the hiring of Fahima, but he was employed nonetheless.
In the Fahima case, the state comptroller report criticized Sara Netanyahu for ordering the electrician’s services at the public’s expense without any external audit of the need for those services, or any confirmation that they were carried out.
For several months in 2010, the comptroller found, Fahima did not produce receipts for his labor, and allegedly received fees far higher than those that appeared in his initial cost estimates.
The report also alleged that between 2009 and 2013 Sara Netanyahu pocketed thousands of shekels of refunds for recycling of empty bottles from the Prime Minister’s Residence. What has become known as “bottlegate” is also expected to be included in Thursday’s questioning.
The report on the expenditures came out in the midst of an election campaign and found that the residence operated for years without an audited budget. It raised questions about the use of public funds, which were spent on — among other things — the upkeep of the Netanyahus’ pool at their private home.
The report also noted that, beginning in 2013 — when criticism led to heightened awareness of the issue among the prime minister’s staff — a systematic, audited budget was instituted and expenditures declined precipitously.
Separately, several former employees at the official residence have leveled allegations of ongoing abuse at Sara Netanyahu, whom they claim is prone to excessive drinking. Two erstwhile employees, former house manager Menny Naftali and maintenance worker Guy Eliyahu, have filed civil lawsuits against Prime Minister Netanyahu and his office over the alleged abusive conduct.
In an October court appearance, Sara Netanyahu said that she was an easy target for people who wanted to “overthrow her husband.”
“Its easier for them to attack me. I have become the punching bag for the entire media,” she said. “If I wasn’t the prime minister’s wife, there would be no cases against me at all.”
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.