Ex-PMO deputy chief gets community service in Sara Netanyahu case

Netanyahu was sentenced to pay NIS 55,000 broken into 11 payments of NIS 5,000, all of which was reduced from the original charge of NIS 359,000.

Sara Netanyahu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Sara Netanyahu
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Ezra Seidoff, the former deputy director-general of the prime minister’s office, was sentenced on Wednesday to 150 hours of community service, a fine of NIS 10,000 and a suspended jail sentence for his part in the Sara Netanyahu “Prepared Food Affair.”
In June, the prime minister’s wife was convicted of corruption in the case as part of a plea bargain, ending a four-year legal battle. Seidoff’s sentencing completes the remaining unresolved piece of the case.
Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court president Avital Chen pressed heavily for a deal. She had approved the deals for both Netanyahu and Seidoff, making the convictions final and giving her a criminal record, though as part of the agreement the charges were reduced.
Sara Netanyahu was sentenced to pay NIS 55,000 divided into 11 payments of NIS 5,000 each, which was reduced from the original fine of NIS 359,000.
Under the deals, the prime minister’s wife and Seidoff each confessed to a reduced charge of intentionally exploiting another person’s error in the misuse of state funds, in lieu of the original more serious charge of fraud.
The state has also retained the right to sue Netanyahu in civil court for an additional NIS 175,000.
This last issue led to significant drama leading up to the June deal about whether Netanyahu’s plea bargain would go through or whether negotiations would fall apart, paving the way for a trial.
Despite concerns that Sara might walk away from the deal at the last second – as had previously happened in over a year of negotiations – she stuck to the deal, confessing briefly and quietly, though publicly, in June. Seidoff also complied on Wednesday.
However, after all of the fighting between Netanyahu’s lawyers and the prosecution about keeping open a civil lawsuit option for NIS 175,000, the Justice Ministry confirmed to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that no case has been filed even three months later – and indications from the prosecution are that there is no decision to do so close on the horizon.
All of this indicates either that the prosecution has decided not to file the civil case or that it is waiting until a less politically sensitive time, such as after a new government is already formed or possibly even once the prime minister is further weakened politically.
Back in June, the High Court of Justice already rejected a petition to veto the Netanyahu plea deal as too lenient, so Seidoff’s deal is expected to stick as well.
The petition had called the arrival at a plea bargain as caving into political pressure and treating Netanyahu far too leniently, and that it could possibly lead to a loss of public faith in the legal system and the rule of law.
The state convinced the High Court that the deal was within its discretion and that the rule of law was being validated, since it had compelled her to confess to a crime after years in which she adamantly refused to admit any wrongdoing.
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 Seidoff, the other defendant in the case, 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 reduced the NIS 359,000 sum to NIS 175,000, using various defenses.
In addition, the revised charges that were part of the deals made it sound like Netanyahu and Seidoff did not actively act falsely, but did so only passively by not telling some of the office staff that there was a cook on staff and that having a cook meant limiting 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.
Originally, there were six other probes of Sara Netanyahu; the attorney-general closed the other cases without indictments.