A former senior aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday confessed to fraud and breach of trust as part of a plea deal. Police had recommended indicting Perach Lerner for acting in cases of conflicting interests and using her position to benefit clients of her husband.
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Lerner served as Netanyahu's parliamentary advisor between 2009 and 2015, when she was suspended from her position due to the investigation against her. Under the plea deal, she will have to resign from the civil service and will be barred from returning to civil service for five years. Under the deal, Lerner will also pay a fine of 20,000 shekels ($5,400) and will not be allowed to serve in any public post for a year.
The deal reached between Lerner and the State Prosecution is part of a procedure according to which the suspect admits wrongdoings and the case against them is closed, providing they meet certain conditions. In case the conditions are not meet, an indictment is leveled against them.
In Lerner's case, the prosecution agreed to shut the case in return for disciplinary action against her at the Civil Service Disciplinary Court, in which she would confess to a number of disciplinary offenses and to acting while in conflict of interests, when she promoted interests of clients of her husband, a public relations executive.
Lerner "had been a central and influential element in the work of the prime minister and his bureau," the prosecution said in a statement, "and had significant weight and influence on meetings with the prime minister and on other decisions reached in [Netanyahu's] bureau."
Lerner's husband, Avi, heads a PR firm called Lerner Com, which mainly gives services to the religious Zionist community. As part of her plea deal, Perach Lerner admitted that some of her husband's clients hired him knowing that she was working for the prime minister and that she was close to him, with them seeing it as an "added value" to her husband's services. She also admitted she was specifically aware of two cases in which clients of her husband were using her position for their ends.
The police found that Lerner had failed to disclose any possible conflicts of interests, as required, while working for the prime minister. When this was revealed, the Prime Minister's Office legal adviser demanded that Lerner would provide a list of her husband clientele, but Lerner had not done so.
The prosecution said that while Lerner's actions could constitute fraud and breach of trust, after examining the case file, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and his deputy decided that it was in the public's interest that disciplinary proceedings would be leveled against her. The statement said that this was conditional on Lerner's willingness to confess right at the start and to agree to the disciplinary penalty, "which includes dismissal and being disqualified for many years from the civil service, along with additional punishment."
The prosecution has not yet decided whether to indict Lerner's husband.