Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit held a five-hour pre-indictment hearing on Wednesday for the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, who is suspected of fraud and breach of trust. The hearing was Netanyahu’s last bid to persuade Mendelblit to drop the charges against her.
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The hearing was held with Netanyahu’s lawyers and dealt with her alleged part in ordering gourmet meals from restaurants and chefs to the prime minister’s residence for 359,000 shekels, under the false pretext that there was no cook at the residence. The attorney general will make his decision on whether to indict Netanyahu after he receives her lawyers’ completed arguments in writing.
Netanyahu’s three lawyers at the hearing were Jacob Weinroth and Amit Hadad, who also represents the prime minister in the police investigations against him, and Yossi Cohen. Netanyahu herself, who is on a trip in India with the prime minister, did not attend the hearing, as is customary in this procedure.
Netanyahu’s lawyers blamed former residence manager Meni Naftali for the exorbitant spending, claiming that he was the one who had ordered the meals. One of Netanyahu’s lawyers said in a past interview that “the argument is that they ordered food when there was a cook on the premises, but there was no cook there at the time, so there was no offense.”
The indictment draft issued by the Justice Ministry in September last year said Netanyahu had instructed the residence staff not to disclose the fact that a cook was employed there, so that the PMO’s accounting people and manager wouldn’t find out. The intention was to get around the rule prohibiting the ordering of meals from restaurants if a cook was working in the residence. “In this way, hundreds of meals from restaurants and chefs, worth some 359,000 shekels, were obtained fraudulently at the state’s expense,” the draft says.
Consequently the attorney general said he was considering indicting Netanyahu for fraud and breach of trust. Ezra Seidoff, a deputy director general in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of spending in the prime minister’s residence, was also notified that he would be charged with fraud, breach of trust and falsifying documents.
Mendelblit decided not to indict Sara Netanyahu in a number of other cases.
The indictment recounts an incident in which Netanyahu reprimanded Naftali after he wrote a memo to the PMO’s accounting unit, mentioning that a cook was employed in the residence. The prestigious Jerusalem restaurants Netanyahu ordered meals from include Machneyuda, Hamotzi, Cavalier and Sushi Rehavia. The meals were ordered from a few times to dozens of times a month and in some cases the order came to thousands of shekels. According to Channel 10 News, the monthly expenses sometimes reached 20,000 shekels.
At the end of the hearing the Justice Ministry said in a statement that Netanyahu’s lawyers asked to complete their arguments in writing and are expected to submit them soon.
Netanyahu’s lawyers said her representatives refuted the allegations against her, adding that a significant part of their arguments have not been published in the media “because the legal procedure should be conducted fairly and professionally by the authorized authorities and not in the media.”
The Jerusalem district attorney will hold a hearing for Seidoff next week, after his request that Mendelblit hold the hearing was rejected.