PM’s wife suspected of fraud in employment of former aide — report

PM’s wife suspected of fraud in employment of former aide — report

Sara Netanyahu said set to be questioned under caution for allegedly creating false impression to State Comptroller that Nir Hefetz was paid for his work

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife Sara, center, sits in a courtroom in Jerusalem, on October 7, 2018. (Amit Shabi, Yedioth Ahronoth, Pool via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife Sara, center, sits in a courtroom in Jerusalem, on October 7, 2018. (Amit Shabi, Yedioth Ahronoth, Pool via AP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife will reportedly be questioned as a suspect in a case involving suspicions she lied to the State Comptroller regarding the employment of a former aide-turned-state witness, Israeli television reported Thursday.

Sara Netanyahu is suspected of fraudulently creating the appearance that she was paying Nir Hefetz for his services to the family, after the prime minister’s personal lawyer David Shimron was told by the State Comptroller Yosef Shapira they could not retain Hefetz’s services without paying him at a market rate.

According to Channel 10 news, police are in talks with Sara Netanyahu’s lawyers to schedule a date in December to question her in the investigation.

The report said if Sara Netanyahu is indicted for fraud, the charges would be added to a separate case she is currently on trial for.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira attends the presentation of the State Comptroller’s report at the Knesset, March 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The questions regarding Hefetz’s employment came as the result of an investigation into the so-called Bezeq graft probe. The investigation, known as Case 4000, involves suspicions Netanyahu advanced regulations benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the telecommunication giant’s largest shareholder, in exchange for positive coverage from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site.

Government members are forbidden from receiving gifts or other favors unless they receive an exemption from the State Comptroller, which the Haaretz daily has reported Netanyahu was denied a number of times concerning his request to employ Hefetz without proper compensation.

Hadashot news said Hefetz, who is now a state’s witness in Case 4000, testified to police that he offered to work for the Netanyahus free of charge, as long as they could ensure his employment was legal. He said he was told by Shimron it was possible to give his salary to charity, though police believe such donations were never made.

Sara Netanyahu has denied the allegations and reportedly told police the payments were made to charity and that it was Hefetz who offered to work for free.

Hefetz in March became a state witness in the investigation after he was arrested and questioned under caution by police over his involvement in the alleged affair.

He was the third former top adviser to Netanyahu to become a state’s witness in a series of corruption investigations involving the prime minister, which involve suspicions he advanced businessmen’s interests in exchange for gifts and favors.

David Shimron, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, at a Likud press conference in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2015. (Flash90)

Police earlier this month recommended Shimron, the premier’s former personal attorney and also his cousin, be charged in another investigation into alleged wrongdoing in the purchase of Israeli naval vessels from a German shipbuilder that has ensnared a number of Netanyahu associates, though the prime minister himself is not a suspect.

The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.

Police said in September that Sara Netanyahu is suspected of receiving bribes in Case 4000 and that Shaul Elovitch and his wife, Iris, as well as Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, were all aware of the financial implications of the alleged scheme.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former spokesman Nir Hefetz (foreground) and Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch attend a remand hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

A report in March from Channel 10 news said police are in possession of correspondence between Sara Netanyahu and Iris Elovitch, including Whatsapp messages relating to the benefits extended to Bezeq and complaints from the prime minister’s wife over Walla’s coverage.

Hadashot news has reported that Yair Netanyahu, one of the couple’s two sons, is also suspected of bribery in the case. The report said the two are suspected of coordinating coverage with Iris Elovitch and the CEO of Walla on behalf of the prime minister, and could thus potentially be charged with receiving bribes despite not being public officials.

In addition to her legal woes in Case 4000, Sara Netanyahu went on trial last month for alleged misuse of some $100,000 in state funds. Prosecutors agreed on Thursday to enter into arbitration in the case as regular court proceedings move forward.

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