Sara Netanyahu Expected to Be Indicted for Fraud in Pocketing $110,000 in Goods

Attorney general likely to inform Sara Netanyahu of charges in a few weeks ■ Source tells Haaretz testimony by state’s witness Ari Harow could change nature of the suspicions against Benjamin Netanyahu from fraud and breach of trust to acceptance of a bribe

Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, August 2017
Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, August 2017 Emil Salman

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Sara Netanyahu is expected to be indicted, pending a hearing, on charges of fraudulently receiving items worth 400,000 shekels ($111,851), Haaretz has learned. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is expected to inform Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, of the charges against her in a few weeks.

Sara Netanyahu is suspected of ordering chef’s meals at the prime minister’s official residence, which is against regulations, and concealing the fact that she did so. She and her husband have accused the former chief caretaker of the official residence, Meni Naftali, who is currently leading protests against the prime minister, of inflating the residence’s expenses.

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At a rally last week, Netanyahu also accused Naftali of stealing food from the residence. But a senior police official, commenting recently on the high expenses run up at the official residence, said recently that “this phenomenon began before Naftali came to work at the residence and continued after he was fired.”

Sara Netanyahu has denied the suspicions. About a month ago at a rally of Likud supporters, the prime minister described the investigation as a preoccupation with unimportant matters. “They’re dealing with the most important things in the world,” he told supporters sarcastically, “the procedure for replacing a light bulb, trays of food, the cup of tea that was served to her father, a righteous man, on his deathbed.”

Mendelblit decided to handle the residence case himself even though Sara Netanyahu is not officially a public servant, as the case was handled from the beginning by the Attorney General’s Office. A few weeks before Mendelblit’s predecessor, Yehuda Weinstein, left his post, he gave the go-ahead to investigate Sara Netanyahu under caution, which means that criminal charges might be brought against her.

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Since then, there has been almost no contact between the Netanyahus and Weinstein, who had been their lawyer in the so-called Amedi affair, when they were investigated on suspicions of having attempted to get the state to cover expenses of contractor Avner Amedi, who had worked for them in the 1990s.

The decision to indict Sara Netanyahu in the residence affair is the first in a series of moves to be made in the coming months in cases in which the prime minister and members of his inner circle are suspects. A senior law enforcement official said the likelihood was that police would submit their recommendations in around December in Case 1000, in which the prime minister is suspected of illicitly receiving gifts from wealthy patrons, and Case 2000, in which the suspicion is that Netanyahu tried to concoct a deal with Arnon Mozes, publisher of the mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth, to receive favorable coverage in the newspaper in exchange for cutting back on commercial activity of the competing free daily, Israel Hayom.

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However, the senior law enforcement official said the date the recommendations would be made public could change, because “there are developments all the time that can’t be predicted. This is a dynamic investigation.”

Ex-chief of staff's testimony 'essential' 

One of these developments, which took place in recent weeks, is the state’s witness agreement signed with Ari Harow, the prime minister’s former chief of staff. “This is very significant and essential testimony for the case,” a senior official familiar with the investigation said recently of the information Harow had provided. Another source intimated to Haaretz that Harow’s testimony could change the nature of the suspicions against Netanyahu from fraud and breach of trust to acceptance of a bribe.

Talks with Harow toward a state’s witness agreement began more than a year ago. At that time he already provided details that strengthened the evidence in the cases against the prime minister, including Case 2000. It is suspected that it was Harow who was tasked by Netanyahu with checking the feasibility of a deal with Mozes. Harow was allegedly to have approached politicians to find out whether a law could be passed during the election campaign that would force Israel Hayom to start charging for the newspaper. Netanyahu is expected to be questioned under caution on this matter a few more times.

A source involved in the investigation said recently that Case 3000 – suspicions of corruption in Israel’s purchase of submarines from Germany – will take the longest to deal with because of what the source called the “large extent of material.” Netanyahu is not considered a suspect in that case, but his attorney David Shimron, who also represented Michael Ganor, the alleged middleman in the deal, is under investigation. Netanyahu denied knowing that Shimron was representing Ganor, and said Shimron had never spoken to him about it. Ganor turned state’s evidence, but his testimony has been placed under a gag order.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s associates are reportedly looking into beefing up his legal team. Members of the prime minister’s inner circle are said to have recently suggested the name of one of Israel’s veteran criminal attorneys in this context.

The investigations against Netanyahu are being conducted at the highest levels in the police and include Commissioner Roni Alsheich. The latter has met a number of times with the national fraud squad team handing the investigation, and according to a senior police official, Alsheich is reading the important testimony in all the sensitive cases.

Alsheich had insisted on leaving the head of the Police Investigations and Intelligence Branch, Maj. Gen. Meni Yitzhaki, in his post until the probes against Netanyahu were completed. However, Yitzhaki is expected to retire from the police, and to become head of the Witness Protection Authority, and he will apparently retire before recommendations are made in Cases 1000 and 2000. Nevertheless, new leadership of the Investigations and Intelligence Branch is not expected to affect the investigation, which will continue to move ahead.