Binyamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara charged with fraud

Justice ministry alleges misuse of €83,000 in official funds for catering services

Sara Netanyahu, wife of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. File Photograph: Amir Cohen/Reuters

Sara Netanyahu, wife of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. File Photograph: Amir Cohen/Reuters

 

Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, has been indicted for ordering private meals worth some €83,000 from top class restaurants with the state footing the bill, although a cook had been employed at the prime minister’s residence.

The trial will start later this year, and even though Mrs Netanyahu is not expected to receive a jail term, the affair is likely to weaken the standing of her husband, who himself is facing a series of corruption allegations.

Ms Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.

Her lawyers described the indictment as absurd and delusional, denying there was fraud and claiming she had not been aware of the procedures. They claim the person who ordered the food was a former household manager, who turned state’s witness.

“This is the first time anywhere in the world that a leader’s wife is being put on trial over the food that she serves. There was no fraud, breach of trust or any other offence here,” her lawyers said.

Mr Netanyahu blamed hostile media for conducting what he termed a witch-hunt against his high-profile family.

“Sara Netanyahu is a strong and honourable woman and there has never been any fault in her actions,” a statement on the prime minister’s Facebook page said.

Negotiations for Sara Netanyahu to return a portion of the money and confess to the charges in exchange for avoiding prosecution broke down when the prime minister’s wife reportedly refused to pay the sums requested by prosecutors. Her lawyers denied reports in the Israeli media quoting Sara as saying she’d rather go to jail than reimburse the state.

According to the indictment filed at the Jerusalem magistrate’s court, Sara Netanyahu falsely claimed there was no cook in the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem when the offences allegedly took place between 2010-13.

She was charged along with Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the prime minister’s office. The two are charged with aggravated fraudulent receiving of an item or items, fraud and breach of trust. Mr Saidoff was also charged with falsification by a public servant.

According to the indictment, the prime minister’s wife instructed staff to order meals worth a total of €83,000 from gourmet restaurants in violation of the rules preventing the residence from ordering outside meals while a cook was on staff.

Ms Netanyahu was allegedly aware that her actions violated the rules and concealed the cook’s employment by ordering that he be listed as maintenance personnel. The indictment alleges she directed staff to hide the fact that cooks were employed in the residence “so that this won’t be found out by the treasury and the office manager”.