JERUSALEM -- Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was formally charged Thursday with fraud and breach of public trust in a long-running corruption case involving the use of outside caterers in the official prime minister's residence, state prosecutors said in a statement.
According to the indictment filed in the Jerusalem District Court, Sara Netanyahu and the former deputy director of the prime minister's office, Ezra Saidoff, were charged with ordering meals to the residence worth $99,000 between 2010 and 2013.
Although the prime minister is not named in this case, the charges against his wife could have far-reaching implications for his political standing and appear likely to damage his public image. Both during his first term as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 and since taking office in 2009, his wife has come under scrutiny for her perceived opulent lifestyle, often being portrayed by the local media as a kind of Marie Antoinette.
In 2016, a former chief caretaker at the official residence successfully sued the couple for abusive treatment, winning about $43,735 in damages. During his testimony, Meni Naftali revealed intimate details about Sara Netanyahu's lifestyle, including her taste for pink champagne and other luxuries.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is considering indicting Benjamin Netanyahu in two corruption cases regarding accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust. Last week, the prime minister was questioned by police as a witness in a third case involving several of his close associates and in a fourth case in which he is suspected of playing a direct role.
In Sara Netanyahu's case, which Israelis refer to as the "meals-ordering affair," the prime minister's wife and Saidoff are accused of falsifying documents so that food from outside companies and private chefs could be used, even though there was a full-time chef employed at the residence.
According to the indictment sheet, investigators found evidence that Sara Netanyahu asked other employees to hide the fact that a cook was employed at the residence, indicating awareness that ordering meals from outside was a violation of the rules. Some of the testimony was provided by Naftali, who has waged an ongoing public battle calling for the attorney general to submit an indictment against the Netanyahus.
In a statement, lawyers for Sara Netanyahu called the indictment "absurd and delusional" while proclaiming her innocence.
"This is the first time in Israel and around the world that a leader's wife is prosecuted for food in the trays. There was no fraud or breach of trust or any other offense," said the statement. "The wife of the prime minister, who is not a public servant, did not even know the procedures, and she told the truth about it when asked in a polygraph test."
Sara Netanyahu's team of lawyers went on to accuse Naftali of ordering the food and questioned the very basis of the regulation for managing food orders to the official residence.
"The Netanyahu family is not the one who consumed most of the food and the trays, but many other people, including the household workers," said the statement. It added that the expenditures also covered hosting "official guests from Israel and around the world."
Over the past few months, there have been attempts to reach a plea bargain, with the attorney general saying he would be open to Sara Netanyahu's repayment of the funds in question. Those negotiations appeared to fall apart last week.
In February, the Israel police recommended indicting the prime minister in two other corruption cases, ramping up pressure on the Netanyahus, who continue to deny all the charges against them. They say that all the cases are politically motivated, part of efforts to drive Netanyahu out of office.
In what is known as Case 1000, the police accused the prime minister of receiving gifts worth $280,000 from billionaires in exchange for political favors. In Case 2000, they say he tried to cut a deal with a newspaper publisher in return for favorable coverage.
Last week, Netanyahu was questioned as a witness in Case 3000, also known as the "submarines affair," which relates to alleged corruption surrounding the purchase of naval vessels and submarines from a German shipbuilder. He has not been named as a suspect, but several of his top aides are accused of having ties to the scheme.
Netanyahu was also questioned in Case 4000, which alleges he enacted policies that would financially benefit his friend Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of the telecommunications company Bezeq, in exchange for positive coverage on Elovitch's Walla news site.
A Section on 06/22/2018
Print Headline: Israel charges Netanyahu's wife