Sara Netanyahu (C) stands next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA)
Sara Netanyahu’s lawyer Yossi Cohen has described the indictment filed against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife on Thursday as “ridiculous and bizarre.”
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit filed the indictment against Netanyahu for fraud with aggravated circumstances and breach of public trust in what has become known as the “Prepared Food Affair,” referring to fraudulently obtaining from the state NIS 359,000 (approximately $100,000) in hundreds of prepared food orders.
In the indictment, the attorney-general alleged that from September 2010 until March 2013, Netanyahu acted in coordination with then-Prime Minister’s Office deputy director-general Ezra Seidoff to present the false misrepresentation that the Prime Minister’s Residence did not employ a cook, even though it did during that time.
The indictment states that Netanyahu regularly pressured Seidoff, house managers and others to obtain items for the residence whether they were authorized by law or not.
Cohen called the limitations on expenditures for the prime minister’s residence unconstitutional as they were passed by regulation and not by a Knesset law. Moreover, he said Netanyahu was not aware of the regulation so there was no criminal intent.
He said that Meni Naftali and other prime minister’s residence managers like him, not Netanyahu, were responsible for the food orders regarding which she is accused.
Cohen has previously said that Netanyahu’s defenses regarding food orders made in 2010 and 2013, when Naftali was not at the Prime Minister’s Residence, were that those accusations related only to around NIS 134,000.
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Despite media reports that a plea deal might be near, no such deal was reached, leading to Thursday’s indictment in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.
Netanyahu's trial is expected to start after the fall Jewish holidays and the prime minister's wife is not expected to get jail time even if convicted, but it was important to Mandelblit that she be given a criminal record for her actions.
The indictment was also delayed from May until now after Nir Hefetz, a former close adviser to the Netanyahu family, provided new evidence against Sara Netanyahu. Although Hefetz is primarily a state’s witness against the prime minister in Case 4000, known as the Bezeq-Walla! Affair, he also provided material against Sara.
A pre-indictment hearing in January where Netanyahu’s lawyers asked Mandelblit to reverse his preliminary decision in September 2017 to indict her also failed to sway him, though Mandelblit issued a statement at the time that he “had an open mind” to their arguments.
Cohen has said that if the charges only related to NIS 30,000-NIS 40,000 at most, they could be dropped as relating to an oversight.
Mandelblit believes he has ample evidence to overcome these arguments and did not deduct one shekel from his original announcement in September despite having seen Cohen’s counter-evidence.
The prosecution also indicted Seidoff, the former Prime Minister’s Office deputy director-general, on Thursday for the same offenses as Netanyahu, while adding the offense of falsifying documents and with a total fraud amount of NIS 393,000 (approximately $108,000).
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