SARA NETANYAHU, her husband, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tour a hothouse in Gujarat state yesterday..
(photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)
At a pre-indictment hearing on Wednesday, Sara Netanyahu’s lawyers asked Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to reverse his preliminary decision in September to indict her in the “Prepared Food Affair.”
One of Netanyahu’s lawyers, Yossi Cohen, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday night that the state’s officials were “very open... and our justifications were very convincing,” and outlined some new and more detailed defenses than previously given.
In Mandelblit’s September announcement, he also said he was closing three other criminal probes and three preliminary reviews against Mrs. Netanyahu.
The Justice Ministry on Wednesday issued a statement late in the afternoon, shortly after the hearing was over, saying it was also attended by State Attorney Shai Nitzan, Deputy State Attorney for Criminal Affairs Shlomo “Mumi” Lemberger, Jerusalem District Attorney Dani Viteman, his staff and other senior officials.
Further, the statement said that Mandelblit “had an open mind” to arguments made by Netanyahu lawyers Jacob Weinroth and Yossi Cohen.
In addition, the ministry noted that Netanyahu’s lawyers asked to supplement their arguments with a written legal brief – a request that Mandelblit accepted.
A final decision is still expected to take a month or more.
Sources close to the case told the Post
in September that though there was unanimity about indicting Mrs. Netanyahu in the Prepared Food Affair, there were differences of opinion within the prosecution about closing some of the other cases against her.
Though the attorney-general said that the pre-indictment hearing was his custom, technically Netanyahu does not have a right to one, as she holds no state office.
However, the issue was resolved late on Tuesday when the High Court of Justice endorsed Mandelblit’s right to hold a pre-indictment hearing in sensitive situations even for persons who are not guaranteed one.
In the Prepared Food Affair, the attorney-general has alleged that from September 2010 until March 2013, Sara Netanyahu acted in coordination with then-Prime Minister’s Office deputy director-general Ezra Seidoff to present the false misrepresentation that the Prime Minister’s Residence did not employ a cook, even though it did during that time.
According to the allegations, the two made this misrepresentation to circumvent and exploit regulations that stated, “in a case where a cook is not employed in the official residence, it is permitted to order prepared food as needed.” The two hoped to obtain state funding both for the cook at the residence and for prepared food orders. In this way, the two allegedly fraudulently obtained from the state NIS 359,000 in hundreds of prepared food orders.
Mandelblit, therefore, intends to indict Sara Netanyahu for fraud with aggravated circumstances and breach of public trust.
The prosecution intends to indict Seidoff for the same offenses, while adding the offense of falsifying documents and with a total fraud amount of NIS 393,000.
Responding to the charges with new arguments, Cohen told the Post
on Wednesday that Meni Naftali and other Prime Minister’s Residence managers like him, not Sara Netanyahu, are responsible for the food orders regarding which she is accused.
Revealing for the first time Netanyahu’s defenses regarding food orders made in 2010 and 2013, when Naftali was not at the Prime Minister’s Residence, Cohen said first that those accusations related only to around NIS 134,000. He further said that number could be easily reduced to NIS 30,000-NIS 40,000, as many times when prepared food was ordered, the staff cook was sick, traveling or off for Shabbat.
Asked if he could prove this argument, Cohen said it is known that the cook was off work for these reasons, and that all he needs to do is raise doubt and force the state to prove that the cook was in fact working at the time. Since he said the state has no way to prove, for example, that the cook was working when around NIS 15,000 was charged for prepared food in January 2011, it cannot prove Netanyahu or anyone else improperly ordered prepared food.
Cohen said that if the charges only related to NIS 30,000-NIS 40,000 at most, they could be dropped as relating to an oversight or to a violation too small to be worth prosecuting.