Israeli Court Rejects State's Bid to Amend Sara Netanyahu Verdict

Prosecutors wanted it to say she improperly used funds to order catered meals for private, rather than official, guests

Sara Netanyahu at the Jerusalem Magistrate Court, June 16, 2019.
Emil Salman

The state prosecution asked the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Monday to amend the verdict handed down against Sara Netanyahu to clarify that the prime minister’s wife had ordered catered meals for private, rather than official purposes.

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Court President Avital Chen dismissed the request, however, saying that the amended indictment against Netanyahu didn’t claim that the meals ordered were solely for private guests, and the court is permitted to assume that official guests also benefitted.

The prosecution sought to remove the following sentences from the judge’s ruling. “The meals that were consumed were ordered also and perhaps primarily for the guests of the prime minister and his wife. The chefs were invited to cook on site for the guests of the prime minister and his wife. No one denies that we’re talking about the official residence that hosts high-level people for official dinners, and with the passage of time there is no way to distinguish between these expenses and private expenses, if there were such.”

The prosecution’s request notes that this was a determination by the court “that is baseless and does not square with what was stated in the amended indictment that was submitted by agreement and relates totally to private expenses, as distinguished from expenses in the framework of the prime minister’s residence being an official residence.” According to the state, the indictment explicitly mentions the amount Netanyahu improperly received from the state, that is, private meals worth 175,000 shekels ($48,600).

In his response to the request, Chen said that while the original indictment against Netanyahu dealt extensively with private guests, the amended indictment refers only to “guests.”

“From a simple reading one can understand that when the accuser meant the hosting of private guests the matter was stated explicitly, and when in the amended indictment it doesn’t refer even once to ‘private guests’ it refers to all guests at the residence with no distinction between them, since otherwise it would have stated it differently,” Chen said. “The court is allowed to assume that the difference between the two indictments is not a coincidence, and stems from negotiations between the parties, which yielded an amended indictment that doesn’t look anything like the original indictment.”

The amended indictment states, “The defendant routinely instructed employees of the residence to order prepared meals from restaurants for her and the family and their guests, while the defendant and the [other] defendant [Ezra Saidoff, former deputy director general in the Prime Minister’s Office] refrained from telling the relevant officials that the residence employed a cook. In addition, in several cases the defendant instructed that chefs from restaurants be invited to cook the food for meals at the residence at which guests were hosted.”

On Sunday Netanyahu admitted to the charges in the amended indictment and was convicted of receiving things of value by deliberately exploiting the mistake of another, where no fraud was involved. Under the plea agreement she signed, Netanyahu must refund the state 45,000 shekels and pay a fine of 10,000 shekels. Chen, who approved the plea bargain, said, “The defendant indeed did improper things with public funds.”