Former Netanyahu aide gets suspended sentence in plea over misuse of state funds
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Former Netanyahu aide gets suspended sentence in plea over misuse of state funds

After PM’s wife reached agreement with prosecutors earlier this year on same matter, Ezra Saidoff will pay a fine, perform community service

Ezra Saidoff, former deputy director of the Prime Minister's Office seen at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court to hear his verdict in his trial on September 25, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Ezra Saidoff, former deputy director of the Prime Minister's Office seen at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court to hear his verdict in his trial on September 25, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday sentenced a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a 30-day suspended prison sentence, community service and a fine in a case involving illegally procured catering services at the Prime Minister’s Residence.

As part of the deal reached with prosecutors, Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, admitted to spending NIS 175,000 ($50,000) in state funds on catered meals while there was a full-time chef on staff, in a deal similar to the one struck with the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu.

The court agreed that Saidoff be given the suspended sentence, along with a NIS 10,000 ($2,765) fine and 150 hours of community service for the offense of taking unfair advantage of another’s mistake.

The judge wrote in the sentencing that Saidoff and Sara Netanyahu “acted together to deliberately exploit the mistake of the relevant officials in the office.”

Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and her lawyer Yossi Cohen (L) wait for the judge to arrive at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on June 16, 2019. (Photo by DEBBIE HILL / AFP)

Prosecutors in the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office told the Haaretz daily that the sentencing was proof that civil servants must answer only to the public and not the demands of elected officials.

“Saidoff agreed to [the demands] and committed criminal offenses with [Sara Netanyahu] to enable her to receive funding from the public fund for private expenses. The message that comes out of the court today is that civil servants should be vigilant and say ‘no’ and ‘enough’ to senior and high-ranking people and to remember that the public is their ‘master’ or ‘mistress’ and no one else,” said attorneys Erez Peden and Jenny Avni.

Earlier this year, Sara Netanyahu was also convicted of the offense of taking unfair advantage of a mistake, as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. The agreement saw her escape a conviction of aggravated fraud, but confess to the lesser charge. She was required to pay NIS 55,000 ($15,210) — NIS 10,000 as a fine, and the rest as restitution.

The Prime Minister’s Residence is not permitted by law to order prepared food if a chef is on the premises. The two allegedly misrepresented the chef’s presence between September 2010 and March 2013, in order to claim state funds to order gourmet meals.

Netanyahu’s trial was separate from her husband’s legal woes, which revolve around suspicions that the prime minister accepted bribes and other illicit gifts from financiers.

Sara Netanyahu was a suspect in one of those cases, but prosecutors did not recommend she face charges.

The Netanyahus have denied any wrongdoing, and say they are the victims of a political witch hunt driven by a hostile leftist media and the courts.

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