Court rejects prosecution request to amend Sara Netanyahu verdict

Court rejects prosecution request to amend Sara Netanyahu verdict

Attorneys wanted correction to clarify PM’s wife was misusing state funds to feed family, not dignitaries; Likud MK accuses media of hounding her like UK’s Princess Diana

Sara Netanyahu leaves the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, June 16, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Sara Netanyahu leaves the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, June 16, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A court on Monday rejected a request by Jerusalem district prosecutors to correct what they said was an error in the verdict of Sara Netanyahu, who was convicted the previous day of illegally procuring catering services at the Prime Minister’s Residence.

The meals were not ordered to provide food for hosted dignitaries, as the verdict currently states, but rather primarily to feed the Netanyahu family, prosecutors claimed in papers filed earlier Monday at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.

“The State Prosecutor’s Office seeks to correct an erroneous statement that deviates from the facts of the indictment agreed upon in the plea bargain and seeks to clarify that the indictment relates only to private meals and not to official or diplomatic meals,” judicial officials said in a statement.

However, the court rejected the request within hours, Hebrew-language media reported, without elaborating on the reasons for the decision.

Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was convicted Sunday of taking unfair advantage of a mistake, after confessing to the offense as part of a plea deal signed last week. 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.

Prosecutors had pointed out that the original indictment against Netanyahu had specified allegations that the meals were bought for the Netanyahu family even though there was a full-time chef on staff.

In their request, they noted that the correction is of the kind that the court has the right to make and that it won’t alter the verdict or the sentence. They also pointed out that the court is still dealing with the case of Ezra Saidoff, a former caretaker at the Prime Minister’s Residence who was involved in ordering the meals.

Ezra Saidoff, former deputy director of the Prime Minister’s Office, arrives to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on October 7, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Correcting the verdict will enable the facts “to be uniform for the two defendants in the one case,” prosecutors wrote.

A plea deal with Saidoff is expected to be finalized later this week. He is expected to admit — like Netanyahu — to the relatively minor 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.

Also Monday, Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar, a staunch supporter of the prime minister and his wife, compared the media’s ostensible hounding of Sara Netanyahu to that of Britain’s Princess Diana, who died in 1997 in a crash as her limousine sped through Paris to evade the press.

“The story of Princess Diana ended in tragedy,” Zohar told the Knesset Channel in an interview. “I do not want to have the same thing happen, but what we are doing to the Netanyahu family crosses all possible boundaries. History will not forget.”

After the verdict was announced Sunday, Sara Netanyahu told the judge: “I have suffered enough.”

Later that day, the prime minister said his wife had been through “four years of hell.”

A year ago, Sara Netanyahu and Saidoff, the 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 is due on July 15.

The residence is not permitted to order prepared food if a chef is present. According to the original indictment, the two 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 hadn’t been a chef on staff, the judge wrote in his verdict.

Likud MK Miki Zohar at an Interior Affairs Committee meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 20, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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.

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