Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister's wife, admitted in court to plea deal crimes in the Prepared Food Affair on Sunday, which is expected to end a four year legal battle at the moment of her conviction.
As the court session began, Judge Avital asked Netanyahu if she understood to what she had admitted, which Netanyhu responded that she did.
Prosecutor Erez Pardan claimed that the deal resulted from extensive mediation and meetings, and as in every deal, every side made compromises. Ultimately, Pardan claimed, the compromises were balanced and worthwhile, saving the the court from calling on 80 witnesses and from the danger of losing hard evidence disputes.
Netanyahu's lawyer Yossi Cohen claimed in court that the case against Sara has nothing to do with her and that its sole purpose was to bring down her husband.
Cohen added that the media has not yet apologized for writing that Netanyahu was like an organized crime gang member and for eating too much pistachio ice cream, pressing the court to accept the deal,claiming that Netanyahu has suffered enough.
A deal was pressed heavily by the the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court which must approve the deal for the conviction to be final.
Once the court approves the deal, Sara Netanyahu will have a criminal record, though as part of the agreement the charges were reduced.
Under the deal, the prime minister’s wife has confessed to a reduced charge of intentionally exploiting another person’s error, in lieu of the original more serious charge of fraud, and incurs a fine of NIS 55,000, reduced from the original charge of NIS 359,000.
The state has also reserved the right to sue Netanyahu in civil court for an additional NIS 175,000.
While the court may reject plea bargains, it almost always endorses them and here it gave the sides extensive time to cut a deal.
The last point of allowing the state to sue Sara Netanyahu in civil court may have been what caused contradictory indications last week about whether her plea bargain was in doubt.
The state also filed a response to the High Court of Justice last week defending the plea bargain.
The petition to the High Court had called the plea bargain caving into political pressure and treating Netanyahu far too leniently which would lead to a loss of public faith in the legal system and the rule of law.
The state responded that deal was within its discretion and that the rule of law was being validated since it had compelled Netanyahu to confess to a crime after years in which she adamantly refused to admit any wrongdoing.
An agreed upon revised indictment had been due to be filed already last Monday. However, the revised indictment was not filed until last Wednesday, due to surprise last-minute objections by Sara Netanyahu – despite the fact that her lawyers had agreed to the deal on May 29.
Initially on Monday, the prosecution said it had given a 24-hour extension to Sara Netanyahu for her to come around back to the deal. But at press time on Tuesday the deal was still not yet final.
Still, late Tuesday evening, a Justice Ministry spokeswoman (who had sounded ambiguous all day) finally said that it would likely be filed Wednesday morning.
While Sara Netanyahu has a history of seeming ready to agree to deals and then backing out, the May 29 deal was the first one confirmed by the prosecution.
In June 2018, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit filed an indictment against the prime minister’s wife for fraud with aggravated circumstances and breach of public trust.
The attorney-general alleged that from September 2010 until March 2013, Netanyahu acted in coordination with the other defendant in the case, former Prime Minister’s Office deputy director-general Ezra Seidoff, to falsely misrepresent that the Prime Minister’s Residence did not employ a chef.
According to the allegations, Netanyahu and Seidoff made misrepresentations to circumvent and exploit regulations that stated: “In a case where a cook is not employed in the [prime minister’s] official residence, it is permitted to order prepared food as needed.”
The two hoped to obtain state funding both for the chef at the residence and for prepared food orders. In this way, the two allegedly obtained from the state NIS 359,000 for hundreds of prepared food orders.
However, Netanyahu’s lawyers appear to have reduced the NIS 359,000 sum to NIS 175,000, using various defenses.
In addition, the revised indictment made it sound like Netanyahu did not actively act falsely, but merely passively did not tell some of the PMO staff that they was a cook and that having a cook meant she needed to limit prepared food orders.
Furthermore, 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 Netanyahu’s secretaries to falsify the invoices in these instances.
Charges against Netanyahu for these 15 instances were previously closed by Mandelblit, as there was insufficient evidence to prove that she knew about the actions of Seidoff and the others.
Seidoff’s plea deal includes admitting to the same crime as Sara Netanyahu, with a fine of NIS 10,000 as well as community service hours, which will be set by the court.
Originally there were six other probes of Netanyahu, but Mandelblit closed the other cases without an indictment.
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