A draft indictment to be served on Sara Netanyahu runs to 16 pages and details allegedly illegal spending of up to 25,000 shekels (some $7,000) per month by the prime minister’s wife on meals from top restaurants in Jerusalem.
Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced on Friday that he intends to indict Mrs Netanyahu for fraud for allegedly diverting some NIS 360,000 ($102,000) of shekels in public funds for her own use.
The indictment also names Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, as a defendant in the case. The indictments are pending hearings for both Netanyahu and Saidoff.
Israel’s Channel 10 news obtained the draft indictment and detailed its contents on Friday night.
It names a series of top Jerusalem restaurants including Machneyuda (owned by celebrity chef Assaf Granit), Cavalier and HaMotzi (owned by Israeli Top Chef winner Avi Levi), among a long list of eateries from which Sara Netanyahu ordered food.
The monthly bills for such meals, as specified in the draft indictment, totaled thousands of shekels, including over 18,000 shekels in April 2011, over 17,000 shekels in May 2011, over 22,000 shekels in November 2011 and over 24,000 shekels in December 2011.
Israel’s Channel 2 news, in a report on the looming indictment, said the meals were not for VIP and foreign guests at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
The indictment alleges that Sara Netanyahu and Saidoff deliberately created the false impression that there was no official chef working at the residence when in fact there was a full-time employee in the position. This was done in order to allow the suspects to “sidestep the guidelines” by which, when there is no chef employed, the prime minister and his family are entitled to charge the state for food ordered to the residence.
Sara Netanyahu ordered staff at the residence not to tell outsiders that there were cooks employed in the residence, the draft indictment charges.
“In this manner, they fraudulently received hundreds of meals from restaurants and outside chefs worth some NIS 359,000 ($102,000),” the state prosecution said in a statement earlier Friday, adding that the specific charges being considered were for “fraud under serious circumstances and breach of trust.”
“The decision [to indict] was made after the attorney general examined the case material and after he heard the positions of the relevant sources, including the recommendations of the state prosecution and the Jerusalem district prosecution to consider pressing charges,” a statement from the attorney general’s office said.
Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday said the planned indictment of his wife for fraud would “evaporate,” and blamed the incidents on a former employee. In a Facebook post, Netanyahu blamed the legal entanglement on Menny Naftali, who served as caretaker in the Prime Minister’s Residence for a period of two years.
Mandelblit said Friday that he had decided not to press charges against Sara Netanyahu in a number of other cases being investigated including 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 — ruled against the hiring of Fahima, but he was employed regardless.
Further suspicions not to be brought as charges relate to the use of state funds for purchasing furniture. The furniture was purportedly bought for the official residence in Jerusalem and then moved to the Netanyahus’ private residence in Caesarea, while older furniture was taken back from Caesarea to the residence in Jerusalem.
The prime minister’s wife was also suspected of improper use of state funds for her late father’s medical care.
In all these cases, including a number of other instances involving potential fraudulent the use of state funds for personal expenses, Mandelblit said there was not enough evidence to prove that Sara Netanyahu was aware of the efforts to avoid payments.
On Thursday night, the Netanyahus had reiterated their longstanding rejection of the allegations of financial wrongdoing.
A statement posted on the prime minister’s Facebook page and attributed to the Netanyahu family said the accusations against Sara were “absurd and will prove unfounded.”
“Sara Netanyahu is a brave and honest woman,” read the statement, which went on to pin any financial discrepancies that took place at the Prime Minister’s Residence on “problematic” former housekeeper Menny Naftali, whom the Netanyahus also called a “criminal and a serial liar.”
Naftali served as caretaker at the Prime Minister’s Residence from 2011-2012 and has alleged he was verbally and physically abused by the prime minister’s wife during his employment. In February he was awarded NIS 170,000 (about $43,735) in damages from the state after a labor court accepted his claims. In August, he denied reports that he would become a state’s witness in the police investigation against Sara Netanyahu, though his testimony provided some of the evidence in the case against her.
The Netanyahus ended their statement Thursday by alleging that they were the target of an “obsessive” smear campaign.
Last weekend, Sara Netanyahu took a private lie detector test in a bid to shore up her version of events. She took the test at the Tal Polygraph center at her “own initiative” in order to “prove her version of events,” the center said, according to the report.
The center said Sara Netanyahu was found to have been telling the truth; however, such lie detector tests are not admissible as evidence in Israeli courts.
The decision to launch the investigation came in light of the state prosecutor’s recommendation after allegations were raised in a 2015 report by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira that detailed lavish spending at the official residence in Jerusalem, as well as at the Netanyahus’ Caesarea home.