Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was indicted on Thursday for alleged systematic fraud involving hundreds of thousands of shekels in connection with meal expenses incurred at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
Sara Netanyahu was charged along with Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office. The two are charged in an indictment filed at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court with aggravated fraudulent receiving of an item or items, fraud and breach of trust. Saidoff was also charged with falsification by a public servant.
According to the indictment, the prime minister’s wife instructed staff at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem to order meals worth a total of 350,000 shekels ($96,000) from gourmet restaurants between 2010 and 2013. In doing so, Sara Netanyahu violated rules barring the residence from ordering meals from outside while there was a cook on its staff.
The prime minister’s wife 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 says she directed staff at the residence, including then-chief maintenance superintendent Meni Naftali, 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.”
Sara Netanyahu’s attorneys responded by calling the indictment “baseless and delusional.” The prime minister’s wife was not aware of any such rules, the attorneys said, adding that Naftali was the one who ordered the food, not Sara Netanyahu. The attorneys noted that she passed a polygraph test when she was questioned on the matter.
“Not only is the indictment based on false claims and distorted and mistaken data, it is based entirely on an illegitimate and illegal regulation imposed specifically for Prime Minister Netanyahu,” the attorneys claimed. According to them, the rules regarding the cook “were hastily written by three unauthorized clerks, expressly for Prime Minister Netanyahu, only five days before he took the job of prime minister in March 2009.”
In July 2015, a probe was initiated after the State Comptroller’s Office issued a report on the Netanyahu family’s households. Its findings were turned over for criminal investigation by the national fraud squad at the Israel Police.
The investigation looked into a series of alleged irregularities, including public funding for at least 15 privately catered meals and falsification of the number in attendance; a maintenance worker at the residence who was allegedly paid by the state but retained as a live-in nurse for Sara Netanyahu’s father, and the case of an electrician who was a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party who was hired to perform work at the Prime Minister’s Residence and the Netanyahu family’s home in Caesarea, despite the prohibition against hiring a Likud activist under the circumstances. According to the investigation, the electrician, Avi Fahima, received higher fees than those he was eligible for.
The Justice Ministry said that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit decided to adopt recommendations from the criminal prosecutor in the Jerusalem District prosecutor’s office and from State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan advising that arguments made by Sara Netantyahu’s lawyer at a pre-indictment hearing be rejected.
With the concurrence of Nitzan, the Jerusalem prosecutor’s office also rejected arguments made by Saidoff’s lawyer at a hearing against the filing of an indictment against his client.
The falsification allegations against Saidoff relate to the employment of chefs at private gatherings, the employment of waiters at the Prime Minister’s Residence, and the falsification of attendance records and invoices submitted to the Prime Minster’s Office for payment, the Justice Ministry statement said.
Other aspects of the investigation were closed after no suspicion of criminal wrongdoing was found. This included patio furniture taken from the official residence to the couple’s private home in Caesarea, the purchase of thousands of dollars’ worth of scented candles at official expense, and retaining thousands of shekels from proceeds from returned deposit bottles allegedly returned to supermarkets in Jerusalem over the course of several years on Sara Netanyahu’s orders.
In September 2017, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced he would file an indictment against Ezra Saidoff and Sara Netanyahu subject to a pre-indictment hearing. The hearing was held for the prime minister’s wife in January and was followed by negotiations over a possible plea agreement. The indictment of Sara Netanyahu followed unsuccessful attempts to reach agreement with prosecutors after she refused to agree to pay the residence for the value of the meals and to admit to the allegations against her.