A fraud case involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife will go to criminal arbitration, even as her trial moves forward simultaneously, after prosecutors agreed to the move on Thursday.
Sara Netanyahu — along with Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Residence — faces charges of fraud and breach of trust for allegedly overspending roughly NIS 360,000 ($100,000) on private meals at the prime minister’s official residence, while there was a full-time chef on staff.
The Netanyahus have denied any wrongdoing, and say they are the victims of a political witch hunt driven by a hostile media.
The arbitration will be conducted by judge Mordechai Kaduri, vice president of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, and is to take place in parallel with the regular court proceedings, Hebrew-language media reported.
The court had earlier this week offered to send the case to arbitration and asked for both sides’ approval.
The prosecution is expected to oppose any deal that doesn’t include at least a partial confession by Netanyahu and a conviction, Channel 10 reported.
Netanyahu appeared at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court last month for the opening of her trial, sitting in the courtroom for the first time as a criminal defendant.
Prosecutors accuse Netanyahu and Saidoff of misusing state funds to pay for the catered meals by falsely declaring there were no cooks available at the premier’s official residence.
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 prime minister’s family is permitted to order catered meals, up to a cost of NIS 200 per person plus tax. The state is also authorized to foot the bill for private guests of the prime minister and his or her spouse so long as it is not for a social or family event involving more than 20 people.
From 2010 to 2013, Sara Netanyahu, her family and guests “fraudulently [received] from the state hundreds of prepared meals,” the indictment read.
According to the charge sheet, the meals were ordered from a variety of well-known Jerusalem businesses, including an Italian restaurant, a Middle Eastern grill joint and a sushi establishment.
The charges against Saidoff are more serious, as he is also accused of illicitly hiring chefs and servers for private meals at the Netanyahu home and falsifying invoices for such activities in order to get them approved.
Sara Netanyahu has long faced allegations of extravagant living and abusive behavior. In 2016, a court ruled she mistreated an employee and awarded the man $42,000 in damages. Other former employees have accused her of mistreatment, and of excessive spending and charging the state for her private, expensive tastes, allegations the Netanyahus have vehemently denied.
The veteran premier himself faces possible charges in separate corruption investigations. He has denied the suspicions against him.
In addition to the fraud case, Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu have 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 Israel-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.
Despite the ongoing investigations, Netanyahu has remained strong in polls and he is not obligated to step down if formally charged.
Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.