State, Sara Netanyahu reach plea deal in corruption case

Netanyahu secured a reduced fine of only NIS 55,000 down from the original charge of NIS 359,000.

Sara, wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives at a court hearing in the fraud trial against her (photo credit: REUTERS)
Sara, wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives at a court hearing in the fraud trial against her
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The State Prosecution and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, have reached a plea deal that avoids an extended corruption trial against her in the so-called “Prepared Food Affair,” it was leaked on Wednesday.
Sara Netanyahu secured a reduced charge of intentionally exploiting another person’s error, in place of the original more serious charge of fraud, as well as a fine of only NIS 55,000, reduced from the original charge of NIS 359,000.
A State Prosecution spokeswoman did not explain why the fine was so heavily reduced.
However, the state achieved getting Netanyahu both to admit to a crime and to pay a fine.
The deal is not final until endorsed by the court, expected at a hearing next week.
The trial, regarding events occurring in 2010-2013, was slated to begin last July, but has been continually postponed by health issues, the elections and ongoing negotiations that had come close to a deal but were never concluded.
For a long time, Netanyahu was trying to avoid any criminal record. A first breakthrough appears to have been her willingness to accept a criminal charge, as long as it was heavily reduced from fraud to something along the lines of accidental fraud or failure to prevent a fraud.
Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court president Avital Chen appointed an arbitrator in October and urged the sides to reach a compromise.
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 such orders.
However, Netanyahu’s lawyers have established that a substantial amount of the NIS 359,000 could be contested.
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 such 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 Netanyahu, with a fine of NIS 10,000 as well as community service hours, which will be set by the court.
When the trial opened in October, prosecution lawyers Erez Padan and Jenny Avni pressed for a three-judge panel, saying that the fate of the prime minister’s wife and issues of misuse of public funds have serious significance for the broader public.
They said that the court has wide discretion to add judges to a case, and asked rhetorically: “If not in this case, then when?”
Netanyahu’s lawyer, Yossi Cohen, slammed the prosecution’s position, saying: “This case over food never should have been filed, and now they are trying to overly complicate it.”
Cohen said that one judge was more than enough, just as it had been enough for the Holyland trial of former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

The Jerusalem Post
learned that the deal with Sara was struck on Monday, but kept under wraps until a deal was also made with Seidoff. His deal with the State Prosecution was struck on Wednesday, paving the way for a full resolution of the case and for leaking the outcome to the media.