Israel’s police commissioner allegedly ignored a request by the attorney general to include Sara Netanyahu’s name in the police statement released Sunday in relation to possible irregularities at the prime minister’s households.
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Before its publication, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit asked Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich to change the wording of the statement. A source close to Mendelblit said he had demanded that the announcement conform to the standard version released at the end of every other police investigation. Mendelblit reportedly said the version presented to him didn’t include the names of those under investigation or the recommendation to indict – wording he found unacceptable.
Despite his request, the statement was published unaltered. The police have yet to comment on the matter.
At the end of its investigation, the police recommended that the prime minister’s wife be indicted on three counts of receiving unlawful benefits, including ordering food and chefs for private events at the expense of the official residence; and for transferring expenses for her father’s caregiver to the official residence’s expense account.
In its announcement, the police stated, “The national investigation unit has finished its investigation of the Prime Minister’s residence affair. The case began in February 2015 with the approval of the attorney general and state prosecutor, and focused on a number of issues in connection to which suspicion of the commission of criminal offenses arose, including fraudulent receipt, fraud and breach of trust, including addressing mutual accusations.”
The statement ended by saying that all the alleged evidence, findings and understandings were transferred by the police to the State Prosecutor’s Jerusalem district, so that the material could be examined and a decision made on how to proceed.
Sara Netanyahu’s attorney, Jacob Weinroth, responded to the suspicions against his client yesterday. “First, there was talk of corruption. Here we’re talking about food, about someone who’s charged with taking a bit more or a bit less food. This is nonsense,” he told Army Radio. “The facts are simply wrong and this will all fall apart at the State Prosecutor’s Office – and if not there, then at a hearing.”
Weinroth also talked about the alleged payments for the caregiver, saying, “This was a dying person [her father], and she had no choice but to bring him to the residence. I saw the checks she wrote for the caregiver. The sky wouldn’t fall down even if the state had paid for treating him. She clearly paid by check. The money came from her father’s account.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is refusing to disclose the expense bills at his official residence, arguing that this would be an invasion of his privacy. He asked to become a party to the legal proceedings in which the Movement for Freedom of Information in Israel is demanding access to the residence’s expenses for 2014, a request the premier is opposing.
The movement filed a petition after the deadline for releasing the information had passed. In Jerusalem District Court hearings last August, residence expenses were listed in an appendix, but there were no names of suppliers or service providers. This was justified based on a recommendation by the Shin Bet security service, citing potential harm to state security that might be caused by divulging these details.
In a preliminary petition hearing last October, the state removed its opposition based on security considerations. A ruling in January ordered the petition to be struck down if the requested information were to be delivered within 90 days. However, 10 days before the deadline for providing the information, Netanyahu asked to become party to the legal proceedings and objected to handing over the details.
“The respondent collected the expense receipts, based on the court’s ruling, and has completed the task,” wrote attorney Yaakov Finkelstein from the State Prosecutor’s Jerusalem office, adding that “at the end of this process, he discovered that the receipts contain information about him and his family that, if divulged, would constitute an infringement on their privacy.”
The Movement for Freedom of Information objects to the prime minister’s request. Attorney Rachel Edri, on behalf of the movement, said, “This unusual request should worry every citizen. The court, with the consent of the Prime Minister’s Office, instructed that these expense details be handed over to the movement five months ago. The prime minister is resorting to baseless legal maneuvers in an effort to avoid abiding by the court ruling.”
Jerusalem District Court will hear Netanyahu’s request to become a party to the legal proceedings in two weeks’ time.