Sara Netanyahu indicted for fraud in 'residence affair'
Prime minister's wife charged with fraudulently obtaining benefits under aggravated circumstances, fraud and breach of trust for ordering private meals worth some NIS 350,000 from high-end restaurants with the state footing the bill, although a cook had been employed at PM's official residence at the time.
Sara Netanyahu is suspected of ordering private meals worth some NIS 350,000 (roughly $96,600) from high-end restaurants with the state footing the bill, although a cook had been hired to prepare the meals at the residence. She was charged with fraudulently obtaining benefits under aggravated circumstances, fraud and breach of trust.
The indictment was filed nine months after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his decision to file charges against the prime minister's wife pending a hearing. The State Attorney's Office requested that the trial would be held under a three-judge panel due to "public sensitivity" and "the defendant's public position."
According to the indictment, from the beginning of September 2010 at the latest and until March 2013, Sara Netanyahu acted in conjunction with former deputy director-general of the Prime Minister's Office Ezra Saidoff to create a false impression according to which no cook was employed at the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem.
The pair allegedly colluded to circumvent regulations that stated that if no cook was employed at the official residence, "prepared cooked food could be ordered to the residence according to need."
In so doing, the pair supposedly sought to obtain state financing both for employing the cooks working at the residence and for ordering ready-made meals and chefs to cook at the residence.
Funding for hundreds of meals from chefs and restaurants was thus allegedly obtained, costing the public NIS 359,000.
Another indictment was filed Thursday with the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court by the Jerusalem District Attorney's Office against Saidoff, who was charged with fraudulently obtaining benefits under aggravated circumstances, fraud and breach of trust, as well as falsifying documents in three different affairs at the Prime Minister's Residence.
Saidoff's lawyer, Yehoshua Reznik, said in response to the indictment: "We are convinced that Mr. Saidoff did not commit any offense in the prime minister's residence affairs. Mr. Saidoff acted with integrity and legally, and all his actions were coordinated with all relevant elements at the (Prime Minister's Office.
"The indictment against Mr. Saidoff is based on a mistake and is not in line with the legal and factual situation as revealed in the evidence in the case. We are certain and hope that the trial will end with Mr. Saidoff's acquittal of all charges."
According to the indictment filed on Thursday, "The defendants worked together to obtain funding at the state's expense for catered meals from restaurants, while receiving the services of a full-time cook at the residence, who was falsely presented as a cleaner, in violation of procedures and rules and by receiving double funding at the state's expense for the catering expenses.
"The defendant abused her position as the prime minister's wife towards all the relevant elements, including the defendant (Saidoff), the residence's caretakers and other employees. The defendant (Saidoff) abused his position and responsibility as a senior public servant, breaching the trust that was entrusted to him."
The decision to file an indictment against Sara Netanyahu was made after the completion of the police investigation into the affair, following new information provided by state's witness Nir Hefetz.
Sara Netanyahu's lawyers have been trying to convince Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and State Attorney Shay Nitzan and their legal teams in recent months to avoid indicting her in the affair in return for an admission to most of the details in the draft indictment and a sizeable fine paid to the state's coffers, but Mrs. Netanyahu refused to accept responsibility for the offenses.
According to her defense teams, she had "no awareness she may have been committing criminal offenses." She had placed her trust with the finance and administration officials of the Prime Minister's Residence and Prime Minister's Office, they claimed, and did not delve deeply into the details of how her orders were being carried out.
It is for that reason, they argued, that she had committed no offenses and did not encourage anyone to commit them a crime. In addition, since Mrs. Netanyahu is not a public servant, she was not aware of the regulations limiting her in ordering meals from restaurants and chefs, they claimed.
Lastly, Netanyahu's attorneys claimed that since she was not a public servant, Mrs. Netanyahu could not be charged with fraud and breach of trust.
At the end of the two parties' discussion, it came to light that the prime minister's wife could still bring the affair to a close before going to court through a "conditional settlement," in which Mrs. Netanyahu will admit the details of the indictment, but not her culpability. She will also accept, according to the settlement, a punishment such as a fine, a suspended sentence or community service.
A senior legal official clarified that, "The draft indictment against Sara Netanyahu was prepared with a heavy heart, but it was supported by evidence and it was detailed. There is also a state witness against her, (former Prime Minister's Residence caretaker) Meni Naftali, who can testify and corroborate evidence.
"The affair cannot end without ramifications," the official added, "and it's inconceivable for Mrs. Netanyahu to wriggle out of the matter without accepting responsibility for her actions."