Corruption trial for Sara Netanyahu postponed to October

Indicted for allegedly misusing $100,000 in state funds to buy gourmet food, prime minister’s wife was due in court later this month but will now wait until after summer recess

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

Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, alongside advocate Yossi Cohen (right) in the Jerusalem Regional Labor Court, October 29, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, alongside advocate Yossi Cohen (right) in the Jerusalem Regional Labor Court, October 29, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara, initially set to begin later this month, was postponed Monday for some three months following a request from her lawyer.

Sara Netanyahu was indicted last month along with Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, on charges of fraud and breach of trust. The two are accused of fraudulently charging some NIS 359,000 ($100,000) for gourmet meals to the state between 2010 and 2013.

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court accepted a request from attorney Yossi Cohen, who sought to postpone the opening hearing in the case due to a clash with another case he is working on.

The court announced that the trial will now begin on October 7 at 1:30 p.m., and not on July 19 as previously scheduled.

The long delay is due to the Israeli court system’s summer recess which runs from August until the end of September.

Ezra Saidoff, deputy director of the Prime Minister’s Office, in Jerusalem on May 10, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sara Netanyahu and Saidoff are accused of violating laws that ban the ordering of prepared food from outside when a chef is already employed at the Prime Minister’s Residence.

According to the indictment, Netanyahu falsely claimed there was no cook available at the Jerusalem home, in order to justify purchasing meals from restaurants.

The charges against Saidoff are more severe, as he is also accused of illicitly hiring chefs and servers for private meals at the Netanyahu home. The PMO staffer also allegedly falsified invoices for such activities, in order to get them approved.

The indictment also covers the employment of an electrician, whose hiring had originally been scrapped by the PMO, due to the man’s close connection to the Netanyahu family.

The prime minister has slammed the indictment against his wife, calling it “a new height of absurdity.”

Sara Netanyahu’s attorneys have also denied any wrongdoing on her part.

“There was no fraud and no breach of trust or accepting bribes or any crime at all. The prime minister’s wife, who is not a public servant, does not know the regulations, and passed a polygraph test when she was asked about this,” they said.

“Not only is the indictment based on false claims,” they said, “it is based entirely on invalid and illegal regulations that apply specifically to Prime Minister Netanyahu and to him alone.”

The decision to launch the investigation into Sara Netanyahu followed 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and his wife Sara, second left, host Polish President Andrzej Duda, second right, and his wife Agata, at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on January 18, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Under state regulations, cooks at the Prime Minister’s Residence are supposed to supply prime ministers and their immediate families with daily meals. Where cooks are not employed, the prime minister’s family is permitted to order external meals, up to a maximum cost of NIS 200 ($57) per person plus VAT. The state is also authorized to foot the bill for private guests of the prime minister and his or her spouse, so long as the meal is not a social or family event involving more than 20 people.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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