Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that his wife, Sara Netanyahu, had been through “four years of hell,” while fighting fraud charges in a case that wrapped up Sunday with a downgraded criminal conviction.
The premier described the proceedings as a “strange four-year witch hunt,” which he said had amounted to nothing and cost taxpayers millions of shekels.
“I have great respect for the court. The judge, the president of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, rightly said that ‘the criminal world is foreign to Sarah’ and determined that there was no fraud on her part,” he said.
“I’m telling you this, and you all know it: If this wasn’t about my wife, there wouldn’t have been an investigation and no one would have dreamed of putting her on trial,” he said in a video posted to his social media channels, which appeared to be filmed on the sidelines of the inauguration of the new Golan Heights community named for US President Donald Trump.
“Sara went through four years of hell from all these accusations,” the premier said. “When she decided to not go to trial, she said she had suffered enough and that she wanted that hell to end.”
Sara Netanyahu was convicted Sunday of taking unfair advantage of a mistake, after earlier confessing to the offense as part of a plea deal signed last week in a case involving allegations of illegally procured catering services at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
Netanyahu’s characterization of the handling of the case was dismissed by a senior judicial source, who told Hebrew media on Sunday night: “Sara Netanyahu is not [Alfred] Dreyfus,” referring to the 1894 miscarriage of justice in the case of a French Jewish army officer jailed for treason.
“She admitted to a crime because she knows very well that this was not a case of ‘there will be nothing, because there is nothing,'” the source was quoted as saying, adopting the refrain used by the prime minister to dismiss the criminal allegations against him.
“Indeed, the defendant misused public funds,” judge Avital Chen said in announcing the verdict, while admitting the case for the prosecution had not been smooth. He noted Netanyahu’s lack of previous convictions and the fact that she had “taken responsibility and saved a lot of precious judicial time.”
After the verdict was announced, Sara Netanyahu told the judge: “I have suffered enough.”
The agreement saw Netanyahu escape a conviction of aggravated fraud, but confess to the lesser charge. She will pay NIS 55,000 ($15,210) — NIS 10,000 as a fine, and the rest as restitution.
A year ago, Sara Netanyahu and Ezra Saidoff, a former caretaker at the Prime Minister’s Residence, were charged with fraud and breach of trust for spending $100,000 of state funds on catered meals, while there was a full-time chef on staff. That amount was slashed by half in the amended indictment filed last Wednesday, to some $50,000, although Netanyahu will only return some $12,500 of it to the state.
The judge agreed to Netanyahu’s request to pay the money in 11 separate payments of NIS 5,000 each, the first of which will take place July 15.
The state could file a civil lawsuit to get Netanyahu to return the remaining sum, the Walla news site reported.
The residence is not permitted to order prepared food if a chef is present. The two allegedly misrepresented the chef’s presence between September 2010 and March 2013, in order to claim state funds to order meals.
Netanyahu took advantage of the mistake of the Prime Minister’s Residence accountants, who thought there had not been a chef on staff, the judge wrote in his verdict.
A plea deal with Saidoff is expected to be finalized later this week. He is expected to admit — like Netanyahu — to the lesser offense of taking unfair advantage of a mistake. Saidoff has reportedly agreed to pay NIS 10,000 ($2,765) and will be given a suspended sentence.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had been eager from the start to avoid a trial, drawing up a plea bargain proposal for Netanyahu even before announcing charges. That deal never saw the light of day.
Sara Netanyahu’s trial is separate from her husband’s legal woes, which revolve around suspicions that the prime minister accepted illicit gifts, took bribes, and tried to arrange favors for media barons in exchange for positive press coverage.
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.
Netanyahu faces a pre-indictment hearing in October.