Sara Netanyahu Indicted on Fraud Charges in Israel
JERUSALEM — Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, was indicted on Thursday on charges that she improperly spent close to $100,000 of state money, using much of it to hire well-known chefs to cater private meals, while covering up that the prime minister’s residence already employed a full-time cook.
Mr. Netanyahu himself was not named in the indictment, though he is currently the subject of a handful of separate corruption investigations.
The charges announced against Mrs. Netanyahu include breach of trust, though she does not hold a formal public position, and cover the years 2010 through 2013. Accusing her of “exploiting her status as the wife of the prime minister,” prosecutors said Mrs. Netanyahu and a top aide colluded in a “planned, ongoing and systematic” scheme both to break government rules and to prevent state accountants from learning of her trespasses.
The charges said:
… the accused acted jointly to fund at the cost of the public coffers ready meals from restaurants, and this while simultaneously receiving the services of a full-time cook in the residence, who was falsely presented to the office as a cleaning worker…
Mrs. Netanyahu and the aide, Ezra Saidoff, a manager in the prime minister’s office, are accused of falsifying household financial records, misidentifying kitchen staff members as maintenance workers and inflating the hours worked by handpicked outside waiters to show a lower rate of pay that fell within state guidelines.
To keep the cost per person within the guidelines, the prosecutors say, Mr. Saidoff also padded the number of occasions and the number of people who attended.
… on the basis of the demands of the accused [Mrs. Netanyahu] to employ chefs in the residence for the purpose of cooking meals they hosted privately and in order to fund the high cost of the meals, the accused [Mr. Saidoff] acted in such a way that the overall cost of these meals was divided into a larger number of portions than the number of portions actually provided, and sometimes “spread them out” over a number of dates.
In a statement, lawyers for Mrs. Netanyahu called the indictment “absurd and delusional,” cast blame on a former household superintendent and said “the Netanyahu family did not consume most of the food,” which was eaten by other people, including guests and staff.
“But the biggest absurdity,” the statement asserts, is that the accounting procedure Mrs. Netanyahu is accused of violating was drafted especially for Mr. Netanyahu just days before he took office in 2009 “by three officials without authority.”
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“An indictment based on an illegal procedure cannot hold water,” the statement says.
The attorney general of Israel, Avichai Mandelblit, filed Thursday’s indictment over the objections of Mrs. Netanyahu’s lawyers. One of them, Jacob Weinroth, gave an interview recently in which he said that the case could have been avoided had Mrs. Netanyahu made restitution, but that she had refused to do so.
This is not the first time that the expensive tastes of Mrs. Netanyahu, 59, have come back to haunt her husband, who also faces indictment in a web of corruption scandals.
In September, Mr. Mandelblit closed inquiries into allegations that she had used state funds to pay for outdoor furniture for the Netanyahus’ private home in Caesarea and improperly redeemed more than $1,000 in bottle deposits for cash. And gifts of jewelry to Mrs. Netanyahu are among hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes that the police, in February, accused her husband of accepting.
The various investigations of Mr. Netanyahu, meanwhile, are quietly proceeding. The prime minister himself was questioned last week in an inquiry into whether he had acted to help the Bezeq telecommunications company in exchange for glowing coverage from its Walla news site subsidiary.
Two of his confidants have turned state’s evidence, and acting on evidence provided by one of them, the police last week also questioned two other witnesses about another investigation, into whether Mr. Netanyahu traded official actions for favorable news coverage in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.
The charges made public against Mrs. Netanyahu and Mr. Saidoff on Thursday include a few counts unrelated to catered meals. The indictment says Mrs. Netanyahu secretly arranged for a house cleaner on the government payroll to fill in as the home health aide for her aged father in 2011 when the regular aide, whom the Netanyahus paid privately, was on vacation. But the extra work was paid for by the state, at a cost of about $1,000 that should have been borne by Mrs. Netanyahu, the indictment charges.
The cleaner agreed to do this and on 5 dates during the months September — November 2011, while the accused’s [Mrs. Netanyahu] father’s carer was on holiday, the cleaner replaced her as the accused’s father’s carer, including during the night hours. On each one of these days, starting in the afternoon hours and for 18 hours’ work at least, until the following day, the cleaner worked as a carer in the service of the accused [Mrs. Netanyahu] and did not engage in cleaning or household work.
The indictment also says that Mr. Saidoff helped Mrs. Netanyahu have the state pay the bills for a private electrician’s work at the family’s residence in coastal Caesarea, despite a specific government instruction that the electrician not be permitted to perform work there.