State prosecutors on Wednesday reached a plea deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, in the so-called catering case, under which she will escape a conviction of fraud but will admit to a lesser charge and pay NIS 55,000 ($15,210) to the state.
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.
The residence is not permitted to order in 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.
As part of the plea deal, Saidoff — like Netanyahu — will admit to a lesser graft offense of taking unfair advantage of a mistake.
Saidoff agreed to pay NIS 10,000 ($2,765) and will carry out community service.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had been eager from the start to avoid a criminal trial, drawing up a plea bargain proposal for Netanyahu even before announcing charges. That deal never saw the light of day.
With the prosecution demanding a criminal conviction, and Netanyahu’s lawyer Yossi Cohen holding out against it, negotiations under arbitrator Judge Mordechai Kaduri, vice president of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, dragged on for months.
In January, Hebrew media reported that prosecutors had rejected three arbitration proposals.
These, put forward by Kaduri, called for Sara Netanyahu to admit some guilt and pay fines, but not be convicted of breach of trust or fraud, reports said.
One plan proposed that Netanyahu to pay a fine of NIS 500,000 ($138,250) and close the case without charge. Another envisioned a fine of NIS 200,000 ($55,000) and her admitting to an offense of “taking advantage of another’s mistake” — but without a conviction.
The third option was for the prime minister’s wife to be convicted in a plea bargain of a softened graft charge, pay a fine and receive a suspended sentence, the report said.
Netanyahu reportedly agreed to admit to the downgraded charges but refused to pay anything more than tens of thousands of shekels.
According to a Channel 12 news report earlier this year, she also refused to confess to the charges until after the general election on April 9. Her lawyer denied that report.
Sara Netanyahu’s trial is separate from her husband’s legal woes, which revolve around suspicions 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.