Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday dismissed as “false” reports that his wife Sara had pocketed at least $1,000 worth of public money by returning empty bottles to supermarkets.
The reports, which were cause for ridicule in the Hebrew media, come as the Likud party leader prepares to seek re-election in a snap March vote.
In a long Facebook post Friday, Netanyahu hit out at “false accusations against me and my wife that seek to topple the Likud and bring the left to power led by Tzipi [Livni] and [Isaac] Bougie [Herzog].” Livni and Herzog lead the Zionist Camp, the joint list of their respective Hatnua and Labor parties.
Netanyahu lashed out at the Israeli press in the post, saying the issue was “old” and negligible,” and accused “powerful elements” in the media of slandering his wife to undermine his leadership.
“All of this aims to detract attention from what is really important — who will lead the country,” he wrote.
On Thursday, reports emerged that Sara Netanyahu was accused of bilking the state out of thousands of shekels by pocketing the small change from bottle deposits during the first four years of her husband’s time in office. Israel’s Channel 10 said the attorney-general would decide in the next few days whether to open an investigation into the matter.
She made around NIS 24,000 ($ 6,115) for her efforts, claimed Meny Naftali, the prime minister’s residence caretaker who is suing the Netanyahus for his treatment at the hands of the prime minister’s wife, according to Haaretz, which first reported the story.
The Netanyahu couple returned NIS 4,000 ($1,000) in 2013, based on an estimate of NIS 1,000 ($250) a year, according to Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Raphi Shamir.
Naftali, however, claimed that the sum repaid by the Netanyahu family should have been much higher. Speaking to Haaretz, he assessed the deposits from bottles at NIS 250 ($65) once every fortnight. If his claim is correct, the Netanyahus returned bottles worth NIS 6,000 ($1,500) every year, amounting to NIS 24,000 ($6,000) in the 2009-13 period.
Deposits on glass bottles are generally NIS .30 ($0.08), meaning the Netanyahus collected returns from some 80,000 bottles over four years.
According to Naftali, the prime minister witnessed his wife ordering workers to take bottle and cans to recycling centers, and he knew the money was not going to the state.
“She sent wine and champagne bottles to us in the elevator, checked if they reached us, and demanded that we take them to the recycling center in another car, not hers, because of the smell,” claimed Naftali.
He also said that the residence began ordering more small bottles of mineral water, which can be redeemed, instead of the large bottles, which cannot be exchanged for money. The small bottles cost the state more.
The office of Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein did not comment on questions regarding the possible criminality of Sara Netanyahu’s actions, nor on whether paying back NIS 4,000 last year in lieu of the money for deposited bottles effectively constitutes admission of taking the money. Channel 10 said his office would decide shortly whether to open an investigation into the matter.
Ynet reported that Weinstein was aware of the prime minister’s wife pocketing the money for a full seven months before Haaretz broke the story Thursday morning.
The Netanyahus spent at least NIS 100,000 ($25,450) on alcohol over a period of two years of the prime minister’s term, Channel 2 reported Thursday evening. Over the course of three months at the end of 2010, they spent NIS 50,000 on alcoholic drinks.
The wine supplier for the prime minister’s residence said that Netanyahu “takes a lot of wine to his events,” Ynet reported. He would quickly use up his annual NIS 25,000 wine budget, he added.
Accusations of financial impropriety and extravagant spending have dogged Netanyahu for several years. He came under fire in 2013 after it came out that he spent NIS 10,000 a year of state money on ice cream.
That same year, a state report showed he was using NIS 80,000 a year of state money for water at his private residence, complete with a pool, in the ritzy town of Caesarea.