Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, confessed Sunday to taking unfair advantage of a mistake, after she last week signed a plea deal in a case involving allegations of illegally procured catering services at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
During a brief hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, Netanyahu confirmed her acceptance of the plea deal. The judge is expected to convict her later Sunday.
The agreement saw Netanyahu escape a conviction of aggravated fraud, but admit to the lesser charge. She will pay NIS 55,000 ($15,210) — NIS 10,000 as a fine, and the rest to be returned to the state.
“The defendant’s confession to the facts laid out in the amended indictment and to committing a criminal offense, and her agreement to be convicted without the need to hear evidence, guarantees she is taking responsibility, which carries a lot of weight,” attorney Erez Padan of the state prosecution said during the hearing.
Attorney Yossi Cohen, who represents Netanyahu, launched a tirade against “ugly leaks” he said were aimed at hurting her husband and toppling the government.
“This is one of the most severe and hurtful punishments that a person I know has received,” Cohen said in court. “This is the result of four years of ugly, tendentious, libelous leaks that spilled my client’s blood. They forgot she is also a mother, a wife.
“I stood here astonished at the lengths our society is willing to go to hurt a person,” he continued. “And of course nobody wanted to hurt Mrs. Netanyahu. The goal was to hurt her husband, topple the government.”
רעיית ראש הממשלה שרה נתניהו בכניסה לאולם בית המשפט, לקראת אישור הסדר הטיעון בעניינה pic.twitter.com/968Bim6rod
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) June 16, 2019
A year ago, Sara Netanyahu and Ezra Saidoff, a 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 state could file a civil lawsuit to get Netanyahu to return the remaining sum, the Walla news site reported.
The residence is not permitted to order prepared food if a chef is present. The two allegedly misrepresented the chef’s presence between September 2010 and March 2013, in order to claim state funds to order meals.
A plea deal with Saidoff is expected to be finalized later this week. He is expected to admit — like Netanyahu — to the lesser 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.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had been eager from the start to avoid a trial, drawing up a plea bargain proposal for Netanyahu even before announcing charges. That deal never saw the light of day.
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.