AG to Sara Netanyahu: Give back state funds, then I’ll decide on indictment

Mandelblit reportedly rejects offer for PM’s wife to pay NIS 50,000, confess to allegations in exchange for charges being dropped

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a conference in Jerusalem on February 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a conference in Jerusalem on February 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rejecting an offer made by Sarah Netanyahu’s legal team for the prime minister’s wife to pay back state funds she allegedly diverted for personal use if criminal charges against her are dropped, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has reportedly told her lawyers that she must first give back the money, and only then will he decide on whether to indict her.

Mandelblit rejected a proposal from Netanyahu’s attorneys according to which she would confess to the charges and partially reimburse the state, in exchange for the state dropping the probe without indictment, Channel 1 news reported Monday, saying that he will make a decision after the funds have been paid back.

State prosecutors were said to have originally recommended that the prime minister’s wife pay NIS 200,000 ($56,000), and confess to the charges in exchange for no indictment against her. Netanyahu rejected that offer, however, reportedly saying that she would rather go to jail than reimburse the state.

Her attorneys then offered that their client reimburse the state with NIS 50,000 ($14,000), which prosecutors rejected outright.

Mandelblit is now said to have ordered that the legal team and prosecutors negotiate a compromise figure, but not as part of a deal to avoid charges.

On Sunday, Channel 10 reported that Mandelblit intends to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife for allegedly diverting state funds for her own personal use.

Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on January 22, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In September, Mandelblit informed Netanyahu that he intended to indict her for fraud for allegedly diverting some NIS 360,000 ($104,000) in public funds for her own use, with the specific intention of avoiding payment of personal expenses. The indictment was contingent on a series of hearings, during which attempts were made to arrive at a compromise.

The charges relate to the overdrawing of funds from state coffers for private meals ordered to the Prime Minister’s Residence.

According to Mandelblit’s statement at the time, Sara Netanyahu and Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, deliberately created the “false appearance” that there was no official chef working at the residence, when in fact there was a full-time employee in the position. That was done in order to allow them to “sidestep the guidelines” that say that only when there is no chef employed are the prime minister and his family entitled to charge the state for food ordered to the residence.

“In this manner, they fraudulently received hundreds of meals from restaurants and outside chefs worth some NIS 359,000 ($102,000),” the statement said, adding that the specific charges being considered were for “aggravated fraud and breach of trust.”

In addition to the fraud case, Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu were questioned in March as part of the Bezeq telecommunications giant graft probe. The case involves suspicions Prime Minister Netanyahu advanced regulations benefiting Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site.

Police have also recommended the prime minister stand trial for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in two other cases. The attorney general has yet to decide whether to press charges against the prime minister.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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