State attoneys filed an indictment against Sara Netanyahu Thursday for alleged misuse of some $100,000 in state funds.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan had already notified the prime minister’s wife of their intention to file charges in recent months.
Negotiations for her to return a portion of the diverted money and confess to the charges in exchange for avoiding prosecution broke down when the prime minister’s wife reportedly refused to pay the sums requested by prosecutors, telling her lawyers she’d rather go to jail than reimburse the state. Her lawyers have denied such reports.
In Thursday’s indictment, the prime minister’s wife is charged along with Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, for fraud along with breach of trust.
The two are accused of fraudulently charging some NIS 359,000 ($100,000) in gourmet meals to the state’s expense between 2010 and 2013, violating laws which ban the ordering of prepared food when a chef is already employed at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
According to the indictment, Netanyahu falsely claimed there was no cook at the time in the Jerusalem home in order to purchase meals from restaurants.
The charges against Saidoff are more severe as he is also accused of illicitly hiring chefs and servers for private meals at the Netanyahu home. The PMO staffer also falsified invoices for such activities in order to get them approved.
The indictment also covers the employment of an electrician, whose hiring had originally been scrapped by the PMO due to the man’s close connection to the Netanyahu family.
Saidoff is accused of falsifying documents that were used to circumvent the PMO’s original order that the electrician’s hiring be annulled.
Yehoshua Reznik, lawyer for Saidoff, said the charges were “fundamentally wrong and inconsistent with the legal and factual situation as shown by the evidence in the case.”
Thursday’s charges come 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.
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 allegedly offered that their client reimburse the state with NIS 50,000 ($14,000), which prosecutors rejected outright.
Reports over the weekend had said Netanyahu’s lawyers were seeking to renew talks with prosecutors to reach a deal in the case.
The decision to launch the investigation into Sara Netanyahu came in light of the state prosecutor’s recommendation, after allegations were raised in a 2015 report by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira that detailed lavish spending at the official residence in Jerusalem, as well as at the Netanyahus’ Caesarea home.
Under state regulations, cooks at the Prime Minister’s Residence are supposed to supply prime ministers and their immediate families with daily meals. Where cooks are not employed, the PM’s family is permitted to order external meals, up to a maximum cost of NIS 200 ($57) per person plus VAT. The state is also authorized to foot the bill for private guests of the prime minister and his or her spouse so long as this is not a social or family event involving more than 20 people.
A draft indictment, which was leaked last year, detailed allegedly illegal spending of up to NIS 25,000 (some $7,000) per month by the prime minister’s wife on meals from top restaurants in Jerusalem. It detailed 15 cases in which Sara Netanyahu ordered food from outside chefs including Shalom Kadosh and Lior Hafzadi.
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 himself 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.
The premier denies any wrongdoing.