Ex-state prosecutor: Sara Netanyahu caught a break with catering case plea deal
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Ex-state prosecutor: Sara Netanyahu caught a break with catering case plea deal

Former senior justice official highlights gap between original indictment against PM’s wife and far less serious charge to which she has pleaded guilty

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, on October 7, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, on October 7, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An ex-senior official in the State Prosecutor’s Office has criticized a plea agreement signed between her former department and Sara Netanyahu in a case involving allegations that the prime minister’s wife illegally procured catering services at the official residence.

Speaking to The Times of Israel on Thursday, Avia Alef argued that while Netanyahu is not the prime minister but only his spouse, she is still a public figure and should be held to a higher standard. But the plea deal she signed on Tuesday was “rather lenient,” Alef said.

Alef, who headed the Economic Crimes Division of the State Prosecutor’s Office from 2004 to 2012, highlighted a “considerable discrepancy” between the original indictment against Netanyahu and the updated version that was submitted as a result of the plea deal.

The July 2018 indictment charged Netanyahu and Ezra Saidoff, a former caretaker at the Prime Minister’s Residence, with fraud and breach of trust for misspending $100,000 in state funds on catered meals while there was a full-time chef on staff. The two were alleged to have misrepresented the chef’s presence between September 2010 and March 2013 in order to illicitly claim state funds to cover the cost of the meals.

Former head of the economics department in the State Prosecutor’s Office Avia Alef. (Courtesy)

But the updated indictment submitted Tuesday only charged Netanyahu with having spent $49,000 in state funds and dropped the fraud count as well. Instead, the plea deal saw the prime minister’s wife admit to a lesser offense of taking unfair advantage of a mistake, pay a $2,784 fine and return only $12,530 to the state.

Alef said the lack of moral turpitude in the indictment was also puzzling given that such a classification is commonplace for the crimes for which Netanyahu was convicted.

She suggested that the State Prosecutor’s Office had recognized the “stigma” that the conviction of a prime minister’s wife would carry and therefore sought to minimize the seriousness of the charges as much as possible.

Alef, who was in charge of the corruption probe involving Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman over a decade ago, acknowledged that part of the goal of the prosecution is to be able to reach arrangements that involve the defendant admitting to a crime — a considerable feat for the Jerusalem District Attorney in the case, considering that until Tuesday Netanyahu had refused to admit to any wrongdoing.

“However, throughout the entire case, the prosecution said that its condition for closing the case would be a refund of the entire sum of money,” Alef said, pointing out that the prime minister’s wife would be returning only a small fraction of the funds that the state had initially charged her with taking illicitly.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embraces his wife Sara as he appears before supporters of his Likud party in Tel Aviv early on April 10, 2019, as election results are announced. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

Moreover, she questioned why the prime minister was not linked to the illegal conduct that unfolded.

“In all of these cases it is always the women that are put on trial, as if their husbands have no responsibility for what goes on within the residence,” Alef lamented.

The State Prosecutor’s Office issued a statement expressing satisfaction with the plea bargain, saying that it had “kept its word that the matter pertaining to Mrs. Netanyahu and Mr. Saidoff would conclude with a criminal conviction.”

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