PM’s wife accused of pocketing thousands in bottle refunds

Sara Netanyahu may have committed theft when she kept up to NIS 24K in state money; couple spent NIS 100K on alcohol in two years

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara celebrate the Mimouna in Or Yehuda in April 2013. (photo credit: Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara celebrate the Mimouna in Or Yehuda in April 2013. (photo credit: Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara was accused Thursday 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 Netanyahu’s 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.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira, who was alerted by former employees at the Prime Minister’s Residence of the issue, passed on the information to Weinstein.

Weinstein returned the file to Shapira without any clear instructions on how to proceed.

Since the beverages at the Prime Minister’s Residence are paid for by the state, Netanyahu’s taking the deposit money for herself may constitute theft.

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 pool, in the ritzy town of Caesarea.

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