Following a vague and puzzling public statement by police, it was confirmed on Sunday that investigators have recommended to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit that he indict Sara Netanyahu in the “Prime Minister’s Residence Affair.”
The revelation on Sunday – confirmed to The Jerusalem Post by a police official – means prosecutors could indict Mrs. Netanyahu on criminal charges. At the same time, however, Mandelblit is not bound by the recommendation.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not a suspect, and on Sunday issued a Facebook statement saying his wife had “done nothing wrong.”
In vague off-record conversations with police, it was confirmed that the police had recommended indicting Sara Netanyahu for fraud and breach of trust charges related to using public funds for purchasing food, paying special chefs and related costs for hosting private events.
Up to a certain point, the state does pay a wide array of the prime minister’s expenses since hosting ambassadors, ministers and foreign heads of state is part of the job.
Attorney Shmuel Saadia, a criminal law expert and author of a comprehensive work on corruption cases involving public officials, said a key issue that would likely get her off the hook was that no one really knows where or how to draw the line between entirely private hosting and hosting for the job.
The same police official also confirmed recommending indicted Sara Netanyahu for using state funds to pay for a caregiver for her ill father.
Each of these instances is less well-known than “Bottlegate,” “Furnituregate,” “Bedgate” and other scandals that until now had received more coverage in the press but appear to be off the radar at this point.
One other scandal that Mrs. Netanyahu seems to have avoided being swept into, but has netted others, is “Electriciangate.” The police official confirmed a recommendation to indict Ezra Seidoff, a top deputy in the Prime Minister’s Office, and the family’s electrician, Avi Fahima, in that scandal.
Fahima was prohibited from performing work for the Netanyahus due to a conflict of interest, but allegedly did so anyway using a straw company as cover.
Part of that scandal was also that Fahima was called to work frequently on weekends and even Yom Kippur, despite rules against such invasive impositions.
In the unusual and perhaps unprecedented initial statement about the end of the investigation, the police had made no mention of whether or not investigators found evidence to support the allegations against Sara Netanyahu.
Typically, when police finish an investigation against a public figure – or even a celebrity – they write in their official statement whether or not the evidence in the case supports the allegations.
The police are always careful to say that they don’t officially recommend an indictment, but by confirming that there is evidence to support the allegations, they effectively confirm that there is basis for an indictment.
In the laconic, vague official statement issued Sunday, police said only that they had finished the investigation “that began in February 2015 following the approval of the attorney-general and state attorney and focused on a number of areas in which there were criminal suspicions, including of fraud and breach of trust.”
It continued: “At the end of the investigation, all apparent evidence, findings and understandings that were collected in the police case were transferred to the Jerusalem District Prosecutor’s Office to decide how to proceed.”
The statement was met by fierce criticism in the WhatsApp social media group run by the Israel Police Spokesman’s Office used for communications with crime reporters. Journalists said the statement was unprecedented in its vagueness, a disservice to the public and one even alleged that the content of message was coordinated with the Prime Minister’s Office.
Several hours after the message was sent out, the prime minister’s Facebook message said: “The police statement doesn’t include any recommendation to put Mrs. Netanyahu on trial. Contrary to the reports, Mrs. Netanyahu never carried out any crime. The various claims that have arisen in the press will be proven to be baseless, just like all the previous claims made against the Netanyahu family over the years.”
Saadia, who does not represent the couple, said the issues being brought against Netanyahu were problematic constitutionally, and that in the unlikely scenario that she is indicted and convicted she would, at most, receive a suspended sentence based on what other officials have received as punishments for their crimes.
Some of the allegations stem from a February 2015 State Comptroller’s Report on a range of issues with the Prime Minister’s Residence that hit weeks before the last national election and was viewed at the time by the prime minister as a major threat.
Other allegations came as a spin-off from a civil suit in a labor court by former Netanyahu house manager Meni Naftali, who won an NIS 170,000 judgment against the Netanyahus in February for poor treatment and failure to pay for overtime.
Though in terms of narrative the judgment was against the Netanyahus and they fought it hard, legally, the state was the defendant in the case.
On Sunday, the National Labor Court rejected an appeal from Sara Netanyahu against that judgment, stating that she could not appeal since she was not a defendant in the case.
The state still has an appeal pending against the judgment, but she had filed a separate appeal since the February judgment by the Jerusalem Labor Court took major shots at her conduct, which she wanted refuted.
The National Labor Court said that, at the end of the day, all of those comments were directed at Sara Netanyahu in her capacity as a witness and someone who played a role in the story, but not as a defendant – which means she could not appeal.
Last week, the couple was under tremendous scrutiny for the “Bibi Tours Affair,” relating to alleged problems with the financing of their overseas flights around when Benjamin Netanyahu was finance minister in 2003-2005.