Sara Netanyahu expected to be charged next week for misuse of state funds

Likely decision to indict PM’s wife comes after reported failure by her lawyers and prosecutors to agree on compromise deal

Sara Netanyahu attends a reception at the Foreign Ministry celebrating the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Sara Netanyahu attends a reception at the Foreign Ministry celebrating the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife will be indicted next week for alleged misuse of state funds, Hebrew media reports over the weekend said.

While a final decision to charge Sara Netanyahu has yet to be made by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, the reports indicated an indictment was likely after prosecutors and Netanyahu’s lawyers failed to reach an agreement on terms for closing the case.

The expected indictment also comes after Nir Hefetz, a former Netanyahu family aide turned state’s witness, provided testimony to prosecutors regarding Sara Netanyahu’s alleged misappropriation of public funds for personal use.

In September, Mandelblit informed Netanyahu that he intended to indict her for 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 was contingent on a series of hearings, during which attempts were made to arrive at a compromise.

The charges relate to the overdrawing of funds from state coffers for private meals ordered to the Prime Minister’s Residence.

According to Mandelblit’s statement at the time, Sara Netanyahu and Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, deliberately created the “false appearance” that there was no official chef working at the residence, when in fact there was a full-time employee in the position. That was done in order to allow them to “sidestep the guidelines” that say that only when there is no chef employed are the prime minister and his family entitled to charge the state for food ordered to the residence.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit addresses an Israel Bar Association event in Nazareth Illit on May 1, 2018. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

Last month, TV reports said Mandelblit rejected a proposal from Netanyahu’s attorneys according to which she would confess to the charges and partially reimburse the state, in exchange for the state dropping the probe without indictment.

State prosecutors were said to have originally recommended that the prime minister’s wife pay NIS 200,000 ($56,000), and confess to the charges in exchange for no indictment against her. Netanyahu rejected that offer, however, reportedly saying that she would rather go to jail than reimburse the state.

Her attorneys then offered that their client reimburse the state with NIS 50,000 ($14,000), which prosecutors rejected outright.

Reports over the weekend said Netanyahu’s lawyers were seeking to renew talks with prosecutors to reach a deal in the case, but it appeared unlikely this would prevent the filing of an indictment.

In addition to the fraud case, Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu have also been questioned as part of the Bezeq telecommunications giant graft probe. The case involves suspicions Prime Minister Netanyahu advanced regulations benefiting Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site.

Police have also recommended the prime minister stand trial for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in two other cases. The attorney general has yet to decide whether to press charges against the prime minister.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are alleged to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, totaling NIS 1 million ($282,000). In return, Netanyahu is alleged by police to have intervened on Milchan’s behalf in matters relating to legislation, business dealings, and visa arrangements.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

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