Police recommend closing probe of judge over Sara Netanyahu case

Investigators say evidence doesn’t support claim former judge Hila Gerstel was offered AG post in return for ending fraud investigation against PM’s wife

Retired judge Hila Gerstel attends a Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting in the Knesset, on January 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Retired judge Hila Gerstel attends a Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting in the Knesset, on January 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police investigators recommended on Thursday that the bribery investigation of a former senior judge related to a criminal probe of Sara Netanyahu be closed for lack of evidence.

Investigators said the evidence that sparked the initial probe into former district court judge Hila Gerstel, dubbed Case 1270, was revealed to have been incorrect.

“The case was opened after information reached the Israel Police, backed by evidence, that suggested that in late 2015 Judge Hila Gerstel was offered, by Eli Kamir and Nir Hefetz, the advancement of her appointment as attorney general — in exchange for her commitment to close a case under investigation at the time, and thus to favor her candidacy [for the post],” police said in a statement.

The investigation Gerstel was suspected to have been asked to close was a probe into alleged misuse of public funds by Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The statement added: “The investigation’s findings led to different conclusions than those derived from the initial information and evidence.”

The investigation into Gerstel was first reported in February, when media outlets said police were looking into allegations that Hefetz, Netanyahu’s former family spokesman; and Kamir, a media adviser, had offered in 2015 to have Gerstel appointed attorney general if she would drop the investigation into Netanyahu. The prime minister, who was never a suspect in the case, said at the time he thought it highly unlikely that Hefetz had advanced any such idea.

Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on January 22, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Citing sources familiar with the case, reports as early as May said Gerstel’s questioning by police had cleared Kamir of any guilt.

The case against Sara Netanyahu, meanwhile, turned into a formal indictment in September, when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit informed Netanyahu he intended to charge her with fraud for allegedly diverting some NIS 360,000 ($104,000) in public funds for her own use, with the specific intention of avoiding payment of personal expenses.

The indictment also named Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, as a defendant in the case.

The charges relate to the overdrawing of funds from state coffers for private meals ordered to the prime minister’s residence.

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