Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and his wife Sara.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Friday notified Sara Netanyahu that she is likely to be indicted in the "Prime Minister's Residence Affairs", subject to a pre-indictment hearing.
The prime minister's wife is only to be indicted in one of four major affairs criminally investigated. In three additional affairs, the cases against her were closed after an initial review - even without a criminal investigation.
Sources close to the case admitted that though there was unanimity about indicting Netanyahu in the "Prepared Food Affair", there were differences of opinion within the prosecution about closing some of the other cases against her.
Mandelblit emphasized that Netanyahu's pre-indictment hearing would give her a chance to influence his final decision.
Though the Attorney-General said that the pre-indictment hearing was his custom, technically Netanyahu does not have a right to a pre-indictment hearing such as is given to public officials as she has no state office.
Mandelblit explained that his decision was taken "after he had examined the evidence in the case, and after hearing the positions of all of the relevant authorities."
He said that both State Attorney Shai Nitzan and the Jerusalem District Attorney's Office had recommended an indictment.
The Justice Ministry statement also said that a similar notice had been given to Ezra Seidoff, who had served as a deputy director-general of the prime minister's office. While Netanyahu's pre-indictment hearing will be before Mandelblit, Seidoff's will be before the Jerusalem District Attorney's Office.
The affairs being addressed were as follows:
Affair 1 - The "Prepared Food Affair": From September 2010 until March 2013, Netanyahu acted in coordination with Seidoff to present the false misrepresentation that the official Balfour residence did not employ a cook, even though it did during that time.
The two made this misrepresentation to circumvent and exploit regulations which 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 fraudulently obtained from the state NIS 359,000 in hundreds of prepared food orders.
Mandelblit, therefore, intends to indict 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.
Further, in 15 instances, invoices to chefs who were brought in from outside were falsified in order to circumvent limits on how much could be paid toward outside-chefs. Seidoff directed the chefs, the house managers and Netanyahus' secretaries to falsify the invoices in these 15 instances.
Charges against Netanyahu for these 15 instances are being closed by Mandelblit as there was insufficient evidence to prove that she knew about Seidoff's and the others' actions.
Affair 2 - "The Waiters Affair": The prime minister's residence in Jerusalem employed waiters over the weekend from the Mikud Company based on false misrepresentations that the workers were cleaning or upkeep employees and misrepresentations regarding the number of hours they worked. The misrepresentations about working hours were used to pay the waiters more than what cleaning and upkeep employees could have been paid.
Seidoff, the waiters, house managers and secretaries of Netanyahu falsified hours and invoices in order to pay the waiters NIS 29,000 beyond what they could have received.
The charges against Netanyahu on this affair are being dropped because Mandelblit found that the evidence against her knowledge of the falsifications did not meet the criminal law standard. Seidoff is to be indicted.
Affair 3 - "The Electrician Affair": Seidoff is to be indicted for employing Avi Fahima for electrician work at the prime minister's residence despite knowledge that employing him had been declared an illegal conflict of interest. Seidoff falsified documents relating to paying Fahima NIS 10,000.
Mandelblit closed the charges against Netanyahu in this affair saying that the evidence against her did not meet the criminal standard regarding whether she was aware that employing Fahima was illegal and that Seidoff was falsifying receipts to employ Fahima.
Mandelblit's finding in this affair is likely to raise eyebrows as it has been publicly known that Netanyahu was the one who went out of her way to employ Fahima and the Netanyahus are the ones who had a conflict of interest to employ him.
Affair 4 - "Father's Homecare Affair": Mandelblit is closing the case against Netanyahu due to the small amounts of money involved, evidentiary problems and the difficult emotional circumstances.
In the affair, Netanyahu employed S and G for six days and five days respectively to care for her sick and now deceased father. While normally, her father had a different homecare arrangement, during those days that he was staying at the prime minister's residence, his regular arrangement was unavailable.
Netanyahu paid S for taking care of her father. However, in addition, S was paid by the state for providing cleaning services. G functioned as a substitute for S when S was unavailable. G was paid by the state for cleaning services.
Mandelblit said that since Netanyahu had paid S, was unaware of extra payments to S and that all of the state payments to S and G were small, he would not indict her, but that Netanyahu's pattern of problematic conduct in that case would serve as evidence in the Prepared Food Affair.
Related issues: Mandelblit mentioned that he had headed off a criminal investigation of state funds used to purchase memorial candles since all of the relevant financial officials knew about the purchase and there were no misrepresentations.
He also noted that he had not criminally investigated Netanyahu for "Bottlegate" in which Netanyahu allegedly obtained NIS 4,000 by recycling bottles purchased by the state. He said that there were evidentiary issues about Netanyahu's awareness of the illegality of her actions.
Further, he said the amount of money was miniscule and noted she had returned NIS 4,000 to the state to erase any doubt of wrongdoing.
Regarding "Furniture Gate," Mandelblit explained that he had not criminally investigated Netanyahu because all of the furniture moved from the prime minister's public residence to the private residence was returned.
Further, he added that there was a legal basis for temporarily moving furniture for hosting state events at the private residence and that the Netanyahus had hosted state events at their private residence.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to Facebook to defend his wife following the news, posting a graph comparing the 2011-12 expenses of the prime minister's residence - the years Naftali served as house manager - with the years before and after. Netanyahu said that "the statistics speak for themselves."
The expected indictment, however, relates to expenses from 2010-2013, encompassing years when Naftali was not serving in that capacity.
A statement issued Thursday night on behalf of the Netanyahu family said, “The allegations against the wife of the prime minister are absurd and will be proved to be unfounded. Sara Netanyahu is a strong and honorable woman and there has never been any fault in her actions.
"The steep increases in the prime minister residence’s expenditure result from transfers carried out by problematic house manager Meni Naftali - state witness, criminal and serial liar.
"Not only did the prime minister’s wife not commit any offense, but the preoccupation with the food of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who works around the clock for the state and its security – and with the food of his family, is a pathetic and obsessive one.
""For how much longer will this obsessive involvement with the Netanyahu family continue?"
Recent days have seen drama between Netanyahu and one of her arch-accusers, former house manager, Meni Naftali.
Naftali is expected to testify on behalf of the state against Netanyahu on a range of issues and has become active in protests encouraging Mandelblit to indict both Sara and the prime minister.
The Netanyahus in return have attacked Naftali’s credibility, including a deal he cut with police that he would only tell them what he knew about allegations about Mrs. Netanyahu if he received immunity from any allegations against him.
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