Former deputy director general at the Prime Minister’s Office, Ezra Saidoff, was sentenced Wednesday to 150 hours of community service, a fine of 10,000 shekels ($3,000) and a 30-day suspended sentence in the case of overspending by the Prime Minister’s Residence, in which the prime minister’s wife ,Sara Netanyahu, was also convicted.
The indictment against Netanyahu was filed in June 2018, alleging that she ordered some $100,000 worth of catered meals to the Prime Minister’s Residence, paid for with public funds, while concealing the fact that the residence employed a cook. In June 2019, Netanyahu admitted in a plea bargain to “receiving something by intentionally exploiting another person’s mistake in a way that doesn’t constitute fraud” and was ordered to repay the state 45,000 shekels. Netanyahu was also fined 10,000 shekels.
Saidoff was convicted on three counts of purposefully exploiting another person’s mistake, also in a plea bargain. The court found that he had ordered meals worth 175,000 shekels at the state’s expense despite the prime minister’s employing a cook. He also arranged for meals ordered from chefs at a cost of 25,000 shekels, and waiter services costing 20,000 shekels.
Saidoff and Netanyahu “worked together to deliberately exploit the mistake of relevant entities in the office, who thought the residence didn’t employ a cook,” the verdict stated.
Saidoff acted on Netanyahu’s orders, not his own initiative, and took care to advise her that the expenses were not justified under existing procedure, the court wrote – but that did not suffice. He was in charge of the residence’s spending and should have stood firm, the court said.
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Saidoff was suspended from work in November 2015 and retired in September 2018. During this time, his contract was extended despite suspension and he continued to be paid in full – 30,000 shekels a month, without working. In the plea deal, the state did not ask the court to declare him guilty of moral turpitude, which would preclude a government job in the future.
“Ezra Saidoff abused his office as a senior public servant by not standing firm against Ms. Netanyahu’s demands,” stated prosecutors Erez Padan and Jenny Avni. “Instead of saying no, he obeyed them, and together with her and for her, he committed criminal actions to obtain funding from the public for private expenses. The court’s message to the civil servants is that they have to stand firm and say 'no, and no more,' to high-ranking people as well, and remember that the public is their sir or madam, nobody else.”