Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that his wife was convicted of a criminal offense only because she is married to him, and therefore suffers from political persecution.
"If she weren't my wife, there would be no investigation and no one would have dreamed of prosecuting her."
Sara Netanyahu admitted before a district court to intentionally exploiting another person's mistake and will be required to pay the state $15,000 - after having been originally charged with aggravated fraud, fraud and breach of trust.
Netanyahu said that Sunday marks the end of a four-year "crazy witch hunt" over "catered meals." "I have a lot of respect for the courts," he added, "The president of the Jerusalem District Court was right to say that Sara is unfamiliar with the criminal world and that she did not engage in any fraud."
The prime minister noted that the judge agreed that there were legal issues in the case since it rests on an "illegal protocol that contradicts Basic Law, adopted just 4 days before" Netanyahu entered office. "As the judge said in his closing statement, cooks were invited to make food for guests of the prime minister and his wife, and there is no doubt that these were official events."
He explained that Sara chose not to attend the court decision because she had "suffered enough" and reiterated his belief that she was indicted because she is his wife.
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A senior official in the Justice Ministry sharply criticized the prime minister's remarks, saying that they convey "an inappropriate message to the public and belittle the justice system."
The prime minister disregarded his wife's blatant confessions of wrongdoing, the official said. "The prime minister keeps talking about alleged catering orders, despite the fact that Sara Netanyahu explicitly admitted that she ordered many meals from high-end restaurants, and a number of times even brought in chefs from restaurants," he noted. "Any intelligent person understands that, for the amount of 175,000 shekels, you're not ordering catering."
The official noted that "Even though the prime minister gave lip service to the idea that he has much respect for the court, he is in practice completely ignoring the conviction with his words."
He said that from anyone else, "we could expect different behavior in relation to the justice system, and certainly from the prime minister, who just a few days ago talk about the need to obey all court rulings. Sara Netanyahu is not Dreyfus. She confessed to criminal offences because she also knows very well that this is not a case of 'there won't be anything, because there's nothing.'"
The indictment against the premier's wife was filed in June 2018, alleging that Sara Netanyahu 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.
Prosecutor Erez Padan said that the prosecution has made "significant concessions," that led to a "balanced and right plea deal."
"The prosecution is aware there isn't full correlation between the sum [agreed to be paid by Netanyahu] and the criminal offense, however in the framework of the legal procedure, a full correlation is not obligatory," Padan said.
Netanyahu's lawyer, Yossi Cohen, said that "Netanyahu's blood was spilled with no mercy. She has children and a husband. The goal was to take down her husband. My client is taking part in serious and of great importance activities that include hosting high-ranking officials and politicians."