It is now quite possible that Sara Netanyahu did everything she has been accused of in “Bottlegate” and may still be legally bulletproof without ever having to deny anything, or call a witness.
Bottlegate refers to allegations that Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, and possibly others connected to her activities, may have improperly pocketed NIS 4,000 cash from the collection of the deposit on recycled glass bottles; though the bottles were bought with state funds.
In Bottlegate’s early stages, there was controversy about whether the media was inventing or exaggerating the situation.
But as of last week’s state comptroller report, the basic above story about Sara was confirmed.
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira also added that the “misuse of state funds must be treated with full severity no matter how small the amount,” and made reference that something about Bottlegate and some other allegations “raised prima facie suspicions of ethics violations, which could even raise suspicions of criminal acts.”
Maybe there is even more to Bottlegate than we know, maybe Shapira was referring to obstruction of justice related to covering-up Bottlegate, or maybe he was referring to a different piece of his report’s allegations against the Netanyahus.
But having spoken to an array of experts about the Bottlegate allegations, there is a definite consensus that regarding the legal perspective to Bottlegate, Sara is “indictment proof” from any criminal offense, regardless of what Shapira says.
Netanyahu’s lawyer, Jacob Weinroth, was the first to raise the defense that it can be irrelevant, under the law regarding returning bottles for receipt of funds, who bought the bottles – as both the bottle buyer and collector who turns them in are legally entitled to receipt of funds.
Meaning Sara was due the money since she “collected” the bottles.
Shmuel Saadia, a lawyer, author and expert in criminal law dealing with public officials, said this argument makes Sara’s actions and intent “free of any criminal aspects.”
Saadia noted that “there is no obligation for individuals to return” the bottles in the first place, so there can be no crime related to who or how they are returned.
In the worst case scenario, he said that even if someone made “an absurd interpretation” of the law to try to ensnare Sara, at worst she made or could claim to have “made a good faith mistake.”
Further, Saadia said that both the minuscule funds and the actions in question, relating essentially to recycling would fall under the category of something where “there is no public interest” and of “too minute” an issue to prosecute.
Dr. Yuval Karniel of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya agreed with much of the thrust of Saadia’s argument, particularly that the issue was “too minute” to prosecute and waste the state’s time.
Karniel did say that Weinroth’s arguments that Sara’s status could be viewed from the perspective of being a collector of the bottles, like any random bottle found by an individual on the street were “cynical.”
He pointed out that most likely Sara not only used state money to buy the bottles herself, but that she may not even have personally been involved in their collection, instead ordering state employees to collect them for her.
In contrast, Karniel said, the part of the law that entitles a collector to be rewarded without buying the bottle is designated to encourage recycling of bottles which have already been “left behind” by the original buyer.
If Sara obtained the bottles using state funds, with a later intent to cash in on collecting them, she was not in the shoes of “Joe collector,” when he randomly collects a stray litter-bottle on the street, Karniel said.
Still, at the end of the day, Karniel admitted that since the law is relatively new and there are no real clear court decisions on point, it would be very difficult to argue that Sara should have known that what she was doing could be viewed as criminal, as opposed to unethical.
Since the standard regarding intent for convicting of a crime is so high, it is hard to imagine filing an indictment against Sara could be justified.
If anything, Sara’s idea might have been so “creative” that she may have been the first to try it, and only future people who try the same thing might be able to be considered “on notice” of the full criminal possibilities.
Saadia has also added that the timing of raising the allegations right before elections was problematic and would color any decision to file an indictment as political.
All of the above is heavily reinforced by the fact that several experts who were consulted on the subject said that they viewed the issue as so minor and lacking substance, that they were not even interested in being interviewed on it.
Finally, while the state has not expressed an opinion, the vibes it is putting out on this particular issue have not been enthusiastic.
So maybe Sara did it and no one may like what she might have done, but legally, this particular allegation may be a dead end.