Sara Netanyahu’s lawyers said seeking last-ditch deal to avoid indictment

Attorney general was reportedly told the prime minister’s wife would reimburse state if fraud investigation on misuse of public funds was closed without charges

Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on January 22, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on January 22, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lawyers for Sara Netanyahu met Wednesday with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in a last-ditch attempt to strike a deal and stave off possible prosecution for the misuse of funds at the prime minister’s official residence.

Netanyahu’s legal representatives reportedly proposed that Sara Netanyahu confess to the charges and reimburse the state. In return, the investigation would be closed without an indictment. However, the attorneys were also quoted by Hebrew reports as saying the sum cited by investigators was too high and should be reassessed.

Netanyahu’s legal representatives said in the meeting that the prime minister’s wife was unaware at the time that she was committing an illegal offense and therefore did not knowingly commit a crime. Instead she trusted the financial and administrative teams at the prime minister’s residence and Prime Minister’s Office without looking at the details of the spending.

Lawyers for Sara Netanyahu later said all media reports on the contents of the meeting were false.

In September, Mandelblit informed the prime minister’s wife 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 Benjamin Netanyahu advanced regulations benefiting Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site.

Police have 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.

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