Sara, wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives at a court hearing in the fraud trial against her.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A plea bargain and amended complaint in the “Prepared Food Affair” – to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, has confessed – was filed with the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday, bringing the four-year legal saga closer to a conclusion.
On Sunday, the court is expected to approve the deal, which will mark Sara Netanyahu with a criminal record, even though the charges were reduced as part of the agreement.
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. She also 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 can reject plea bargains, it almost always endorses them.
The last point of allowing the state to sue Sara Netanyahu in civil court may have been what caused contradictory indications on Tuesday about whether her plea bargain was in doubt.
The state also filed a response to the High Court of Justice on Wednesday, defending the plea bargain.
The petition to the High Court had called the plea bargain caving in to 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 the 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 was due to be filed on Monday. However, that indictment was not filed, due to surprise last-minute objections by Sara Netanyahu – despite the fact that her lawyers had agreed to the deal on May 29.
Initially, the prosecution said it had given a 24-hour extension to Sara Netanyahu for her to come back around to the deal. But at press time on Tuesday the deal was not yet final.
Still, late Tuesday evening, a Justice Ministry spokeswoman (who had been 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.
Last June, 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 NIS 359,000 from the state 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 she did not actively act falsely, but merely passively did not tell some of the Prime Minister’s Office staff that there 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 Mrs. 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.
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