Sara Netanyahu Charged With Fraud for Ordering $100k Worth of Meals From Gourmet Chefs

Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted on Thursday for alleged "systematic fraud" involving hundreds of thousands of shekels in connection with meal expenses incurred at the Prime Minister’s Residence.

Sara Netanyahu was charged along with Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office. The two are charged in an indictment filed at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court with aggravated fraudulent receiving of an item or items, fraud and breach of trust. Saidoff was also charged with falsification by a public servant.

According to the indictment, the prime minister’s wife instructed staff at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem to order meals consumed at the residence worth a total of 350,000 shekels ($96,000) from gourmet restaurants between 2010 and 2013 in violation of rules barring the residence from ordering meals from the outside during periods when the residence had a cook on its staff.

Investigators in the case gathered evidence that purportedly shows that the prime minister’s wife ordered that the employment of cook at the residence be concealed and that she was aware that ordering meals from the outside for the residence when it employed a cook was a violation of the rules.

According to the indictment, Sara Netanyahu directed staff at the residence, including the chief maintenance superintendent at the time, Meni Naftali, and another employee, Meir Cohen, to hide the fact that cooks were employed in the residence "so that this won’t be found out by the treasury and the office manager." The indictment states that in accordance with her order, Naftali passed this message on to other residence staff.

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In July 2015, a probe was initiated after the State Comptroller’s Office issued a report on the Netanyahu family households. Its findings were turned over for criminal investigation by the national fraud squad at the Israel Police. The investigation looked into a series of alleged irregularities,including public funding for at least 15 privately catered meals and falsification of the number in attendance; a maintenance worker at the residence allegedly paid by the state but retained as a live-in nurse for Sara Netanyahu’s father, and the case of an electrician who was a member of the prime minister’s Likud party who was hired to perform work at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem and at the Netantyahu family’s home in Caesarea, despite the prohibition against hiring a Likud activist under the circumstances. According to the investigation, the electrician, Avi Fahima, received higher fees than those he was eligible for.

The Justice Ministry said in a statement that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit decided to adopt recommendations from the criminal prosecutor in the Jerusalem District prosecutor’s office and from State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan to reject  arguments made by Sara Netantyahu’s lawyer at a pre-indictment hearing opposing an indictment.

With the concurrence of Nitzan, the Jerusalem prosecutor’s office also rejected arguments made by Saidoff’s lawyer at a hearing against the filing of an indictment against his client.

The falsification allegations against Saidoff relate to the employment of chefs at private gatherings, the employment of waiters at the Prime Minister’s Residence, and the falsification of attendance records and invoices for their submission to the Prime Minster’s Office for payment, the Justice Ministry statement said.

Other aspects of the investigation were closed after no suspicion of criminal wrongdoing was found. This included patio furniture taken from the official residence to the couple’s private home in Caesarea, the purchase of thousands of dollars’ worth of scented candles at official expense, and retaining thousands of shekels from proceeds from returned deposit bottles allegedly returne to supermarkets in Jerusalem over the course of several years on Sara Netanyahu’s orders.

In September 2017, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced he would file an indictment against Ezra Saidoff and Sara Netanyahu subject to a pre-indictment hearing. The hearing was held for the prime minister’s wife in January. The hearing was followed by negotiations over a possible plea agreement. The indictment of Sara Netanyahu followed unsuccessful attempts to reach agreement with prosecutors when Sara Netanyahu refused to agree to pay the residence for the value of the meals and to admit to the allegations against her.