The wife of Defense Minister Ehud Barak yesterday admitted she had employed an illegal foreign worker as a house cleaner, and said she takes full responsibility for the action.

In a letter to the attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, Barak's wife, Nili Priel, also asked to pay the fine for her act and thus to end the affair.

Last week Weinstein announced his decision to close the investigation for lack of evidence, after the authorities and Shin Bet security service reportedly failed to locate the woman, who was referred to as "Virginia."

State Prosecutor Moshe Lador would not say yesterday whether he would reopen the case after Israel Radio reported that Priel and the Shin Bet were in possession of the mysterious cleaner's telephone number.

"Already during my first interrogation several months ago, I confessed to hiring an illegal worker without a permit," Priel wrote in the letter.

"At the time, I expressed my remorse, which I repeat now, and I am willing today to pay a fine as the state imposes in such incidents," she wrote.

Priel allegedly hired a Filipina woman who was in the country illegally at the couple's Tel Aviv home, according to an Israel Radio report last December.

The couple reportedly employed the woman for several month doing housekeeping chores twice a week, although she did not have a permit to work in Israel. She also worked at large social events the couple held.

In the course of the investigation, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor and the Shin Bet security service failed to locate the woman over a period of several months.

Weinstein finally decided Priel's admission was not enough evidence to ascertain the foreign worker's legal status in Israel, information that was necessary to press criminal charges against her employer.

However, Israel Radio reporter Carmela Menashe tracked down the woman last week by using the telephone number Priel had, which she did not give the investigators.

The woman told Menashe she used to enter the defense minister's home regularly without undergoing any security check.

She said the defense minister was "a good man" who treated her decently. She also praised Priel, whom she said "gave me gifts."

The woman had worked previously in Israel as a caregiver, and after her work permit expired she began cleaning homes, media reports said. She was reportedly married to a Filipino worker and has a child.

The incident of the illegal employment follows other embarassing affairs Barak and his wife were involved in, including Priel's consulting agency that worked with contributors to Barak's campaign and the expensive hotel the couple stayed at during the International Air Show in Paris two summers ago.

A senior attorney in Weinstein's office, Raz Nizri, said last week there was no evidence that the defense minister had been personally involved in employing the foreign worker, and that under the circumstances it was decided not to question Barak.