Sara Netanyahu questioned by police over alleged fraud in hiring ex-aide

Sara Netanyahu questioned by police over alleged fraud in hiring ex-aide

PM’s wife suspected of creating false impression to State Comptroller that Nir Hefetz, who later turned state witness, was paid for his work

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife, Sara, arrives for a meeting in Paris, France, June 6, 2018. (AP/Francois Mori)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife, Sara, arrives for a meeting in Paris, France, June 6, 2018. (AP/Francois Mori)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife was questioned by police on Friday over suspicions she lied to the State Comptroller regarding the employment of a former aide-turned-state witness.

She was interrogated as a criminal suspect at the Lahav 433 National Crime Unit headquarters in Rishon Lezion in connection to the Bezeq corruption probe, known as Case 4000.

“At the end of the investigation, it will turn out that this is a bunch of lies and stories,” said her lawyer Yossi Cohen after the questioning, which lasted some three hours. “How long will the persecution of the Netanyahu family go on for?”

Netanyahu is suspected of fraudulently creating the appearance that she was paying Nir Hefetz for his services to the family, after the prime minister’s personal lawyer David Shimron was told by the State Comptroller Yosef Shapira they could not retain Hefetz’s services without paying him at a market rate.

Government officials are forbidden from receiving gifts or other favors unless they receive an exemption from the State Comptroller, which the Haaretz daily has reported Netanyahu was denied a number of times concerning his request to employ Hefetz without proper compensation.

Hadashot news said Hefetz, who is a state witness in Case 4000, testified to police that he offered to work for the Netanyahus free of charge, as long as they could ensure his employment was legal. He said he was told by Shimron it was possible to give his salary to charity, although police believe such donations were never made.

Sara Netanyahu has denied the allegations and reportedly told police the payments were made to charity and that it was Hefetz who offered to work for free.

According to Hadashot news, she was previously interrogated by police on the issue in September.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira attends the presentation of the State Comptroller’s report at the Knesset, March 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The questions regarding Hefetz’s employment came as the result of an investigation into the so-called Bezeq graft probe. The investigation involves suspicions Netanyahu advanced regulations benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the telecommunication giant’s largest shareholder, in exchange for positive coverage from the Bezeq-owned Walla news site.

Last week, police announced that it was recommending bribery charges against both Netanyahu and his wife, Sara Netanyahu, in the case. The attorney general has yet to decide whether to press charges.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands by his wife Sara before lighting a menorah during the start of Hanukkah in Ramat Gan on December 2, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Sara Netanyahu, police said, acted on the prime minister’s behalf to coordinate coverage at Walla with Shaul Elovitch, Iris Elovitch and Ilan Yeshua, the CEO of the news site, against whom the police also recommended bribery charges.

Hefetz in March became a state witness in the investigation after he was arrested and questioned under caution by police over his involvement in the alleged affair.

He was the third former top adviser to Netanyahu to become a state witness in a series of corruption investigations involving the prime minister, which involve suspicions he advanced businessmen’s interests in exchange for gifts and favors.

Nir Hefetz, then-editor in chief of the Maariv newspaper, attends an Economic Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, September 27, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Police last month recommended Shimron, the premier’s former personal attorney and also his cousin, be charged in another investigation into alleged wrongdoing in the purchase of Israeli naval vessels from a German shipbuilder that has ensnared a number of Netanyahu associates, though the prime minister himself is not a suspect.

The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.

In addition to her legal woes in Case 4000, Sara Netanyahu went on trial last month for alleged misuse of some $100,000 in state funds. Prosecutors agreed to enter into arbitration in the case as regular court proceedings move forward.

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