Shortly before a last-ditch attempt to strike a deal that would stave off prosecution for suspected misuse of state funds, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife reportedly told her lawyers she’d rather go to jail than reimburse the state.
In a Wednesday meeting with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, Sara Netanyahu’s legal representatives proposed that she confess to the charges of misappropriating funds at the prime minister’s official residence and pay back the money, Hadashot TV news reported Thursday night. In return, the report said, the investigation would be closed without an indictment.
However, during a preliminary meeting to discuss the proposal, Sara Netanyahu reportedly flew into a rage at her lawyers, saying she would rather go to jail than pay the NIS 200,000 ($55,000) that they estimated she would have to pay.
Her lawyers denied the story completely, telling Hadashot, “Not a single word in the report is correct.” They also said all media reports on the content of the meeting with Mandelblit were false.
The report said her lawyers hoped to strike a compromise deal in light of the prosecution’s wariness of an indictment against Sara Netanyahu that may seem trivial, and the fact that she doesn’t want to be dragged through the courts with all the negative publicity that would entail.
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 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.
“In this manner, they fraudulently received hundreds of meals from restaurants and outside chefs worth some NIS 359,000 ($102,000),” the statement said, adding that the specific charges being considered were for “aggravated fraud and breach of trust.”
In addition to the fraud case, Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu were questioned in March 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.