Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife, Sara, continued to keep money owed to the state from bottle deposits even after their lawyer indicated to the attorney general that the practice had stopped.
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In June, 2013 the couple's personal lawyer, David Shimron, presented Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein with a copy of a 4,000-shekel ($1,000) check made out a month earlier from the Netanyahus to the treasury, and left the impression that the collection of bottle-deposit funds for personal use had ended a year earlier, a Haaretz investigation revealed on Tuesday. In fact, the prime minister's wife continued to appropriate the funds from redeemable bottles used at the official Prime Minister's Residence at least until the end of 2013, according to employees who worked at the residence.
Weinstein passed on the documents, without examining them in depth, to State Comptroller Joseph Shapira in order to enable him to conduct an examination of proper administration and integrity in the management of the Prime Minister’s Residence.
If the claims of the employees are correct and verified, and Netanyahus’ representatives tried to mislead the attorney general and the state comptroller, those efforts could constitute obstruction of justice.
An employee of the Prime Minister’s Residence, whose name is being withheld for legal reasons, told Haaretz on Tuesday that Sara Netanyahu’s driver, Viktor Sarga — accompanied by another residence employee — continued to take bags of bottles and cans to the recycling center in Jerusalem and collect the deposits, long after May, 2013. Sarga, who would use an official vehicle from the Prime Minister's Office for the errand, would collect the bottle-deposit refunds and return to the Prime Minister's Residence.
There are contradictory versions of what happened to the cash then, but in none of them was the money returned to the state coffers, as it should have been.
Sources close to Netanyahu said on Tuesday evening that the money was apparently placed in the "petty cash" fund, which the driver, Sarga, "managed in practice." However, even if Sarga received permission from Sara Netanyahu to take the money, she had no authority to give him state funds.
Asked about this by Haaretz, one of Sarga's lawyers, Moshe Ben Shimol, retorted "Viktor is not a thief and he is also not a liar."
Sarga's fellow employees in the Prime Minister's Residence dismissed the "petty cash" claim, stating that the fund was used to cover incidental expenses such as an unexpected cab ride at Sara’s behest — and that usually there was no money in the petty cash. In fact the employees paid for many expenses themselves and were never reimbursed, they said.
The employees added that Sarga never pocketed the bottle-deposit money — and in fact was even required to add to the amount out of his own pocket when Sara Netanyahu decided the sum collected at the recycling center was too low. The employees said they do not believe anything in this routine changed after May 2013.