Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife, Sara, is suspected of ordering private meals worth tens of thousands of shekels a month from high-end restaurants with the state footing the bill, according to a draft of an indictment set to be filed against her, pending a hearing.
These allegations are made all the more grievous considering the fact cooks were employed in the prime minister's residence at the time the alleged offenses were carried out.
Mrs. Netanyahu is facing charges of fraudulently obtaining benefits under aggravated circumstances, estimated at NIS 360,000, fraud and breach of trust.
The draft indictment uncovers the method used by Mrs. Netanyahu to have the state pay for her private expenses. Between September 2010 and March 2013, the indict posited, Mrs. Netanyahu and Deputy Director-General of the Prime Minister's Office Ezra Saidoff, acted in tandem to create a false pretense according to which no cooks were employed at the Prime Minister's Residence, going so far as to instruct other employees to cover up the fact there were.
In at least 15 cases, the indictment said, the so-called absence of a cook was used to have chefs brought in to the residence to cook meals for the Netanyahu family and their private guests, with outside food expenses reaching upwards of NIS 24,000 in December of 2011.
Even when queries were made containing names of specific cooks, in order to not be caught in an internal lie, the Prime Minister's Office would insist the persons in question were not employed as cooks.
This false pretense was allegedly intended to go around the protocol allowing to order prepared cooked food to the residence only if no cooks were employed at the official residence. In fact, former chief caretaker of the residence, Meni Naftali, was reportedly reprimanded by Mrs. Netanyahu after writing an internal memo to the PMO's accounting department mentioning a cook worked in the residence.
Sara Netanyahu's human shield
Saidoff, considered close to Mrs. Netanyahu, was tasked with managing the residence. He's suspected of playing a major role in committing the offenses also attributed to Mrs. Netanyahu, as well as a host of other affairs relating to the managing of the residence in which the case against Mrs. Netanyahu was closed due to the lack of evidence, with Saidoff remaining the sole suspect.
While Saidoff shares top-billing with Mrs. Netanyahu on the meals affair, in cases relating to the employment of waiters, electrician Avi Fahima and private chefs, Mrs. Netanyahu is no longer a suspect due to the difficulty in proving she was aware of the affairs' minutia.
Subject to a hearing, Saidoff will be indicted, for instance, for approving exaggerated invoices for meals cooked by chefs for the Netanyahu family and their private guests, approving exaggerated invoices for wait staff serving the family meals and approving the employment of electrician Fahima in the family's private Caesarea residence despite being instructed not to. In all of these cases, the attorney general found no proof Sara Netanyahu was aware of the various false pretenses, forgeries and breaking of protocol.
Saidoff's defense team, headed by attorney Gadi Tal, declared this past weekend they have no intention of reaching a plea agreement with the State Attorney's Office. Tal claimed Saidoff was only one official of many, followed protocol and instructions at all times and was never the sole holder of authority, to say nothing of the fact he had nothing to gain from the alleged forgeries.
Saidoff nevertheless stands accused in the meals affair, and is suspected of instructing the chefs and the residence's caretakers and secretarial staff to forge invoices, which he then signed and sent to be approved.
Regarding the aforementioned wait staff discrepancy, the investigation turned up waiters serving private meals to the Netanyahu family were employed in the residence on weekends, while their official designation marked them as other cleaning or back-up help. Since waiters were to be paid a larger wage than sanitation workers, Saidoff allegedly reported they'd worked a larger number of hours so they could be paid a higher hourly wage.
Saidoff also allegedly instructed the waiters themselves, caretakers and secretaries to forge these invoices as well—for sums totaling NIS 29,000.
Cases closed against Mrs. NetanyahuApart from the case still pending against Saidoff but already dismissed against Mrs. Netanyahu—the alleged employment of electrician Eli Fahima—several other cases against Mrs. Netanyahu will be closed citing lack of evidence.
These include the employment of nursing care for Mrs. Netanyahu's elderly father, which was closed after the attoney general determined it cannot be proved Mrs. Netanyahu knew of the additional payments done from the state coffers; the purchase of candles, which police found was known and approved by the relevant officials in the PMO; pocketing money from recycling bottles, which was closed after Mrs. Netanyahu paid the PMO NIS 4,000 to cover the costs of the deposit-refund; and the garden furniture case, which was closed after the Netanyahu family returned the new furniture to the official residence in Jerusalem after having taken it to their private home in Caesarea in breach of protocol.
"The electrician affair dissipated, the garden furniture affair vanished, the bottles affair evaporated, the caretaker affair disappeared, the overblown expenses affair crumbled and the waiters affair collapsed," commented Mrs. Netanyahu's defense team, comprised of attorneys Jacob Weinroth, Yossi Cohen and Amit Hadad. "The only thing still under consideration by the attorney general is the disposable food tray affair—and that's also subject to a hearing and will be completely refuted in due course."
Mrs. Netanyahu's attorney then went on to claim the person who actually ordered the food trays was former caretaker Meni Naftali—who has since turned state's evidence—whereas Mrs. Netanyahu "reprimanded him many times" for this practice.
As for the prime minister himself, most of his office meals are said to have paid for by a different and separate expense budget. "Sara, Yair and Avner almost never ate the food Naftali ordered," the attorneys claimed, referring to Mrs. Netanyahu and the couple's two sons. "There are numerous testimonies attesting to the fact Naftali ordered the food for himself and his inner circle."
Regardless of the identity of the exact party, the indictment stated meals were ordered in differing frequency, sometimes only several times a month, and sometimes as much as dozens of times each month, with each order consisting of several dishes.
"They would order quite a lot from me," said the owners of one of the restaurants mentioned by name in the indictment. "You have to understand the orders never said 'Sara Netanyahu' but 'the Prime Minister's Office.'"
The owner stressed he was never asked to testify regarding the food he provided. "One thing's for sure, I don't have any disposable food trays," he jokingly remarked. "Food is served in the restaurant's dishes. Food trays are to make people think each dish was NIS 25, for workers' unions. I served my food in nice dishes."
Tova Tzimuki, Etti Abramov, Itamar Eichner and Yael Freidson contributed to this report.