Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit formally notified Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, that he intends to indict her for fraud for allegedly diverting some NIS 360,000 ($102,000) of shekels in public funds for her own use, with the specific intention of avoiding payment of personal expenses.
The indictment, announced Friday, also names Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, as a defendant in the case. The Jerusalem District Prosecutor’s Office notified Saidoff on Friday as well.
The indictments are pending hearings for both Netanyahu and Saidoff.
“The decision 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.
The charges relate to the overdrawing of funds from state coffers for private meals ordered to the Prime Minister’s Residence.
According to the statement, Sara Netanyahu and Saidoff 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. This was done in order to allow them 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.
“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 “fraud under serious circumstances and breach of trust.”
On Thursday night, the Netanyahus 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.
Channel 2 news reported earlier that Mandelblit had informed Sara Netanyahu of his plans to file the charges against her on Friday.
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.
Saidoff, however, will face charges on three other counts of fraud in addition to the charges over ordered food.
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.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.