More details have now surfaced over how Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, allegedly fraudulently billed the government for pricey meals at their couple's official residence, through what reports claims was a system for circumventing rules that prevent taxpayers from footing the bill for personal expenses at the Prime Minister’s Residence.
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The details appear in a pre-indictment draft document prepared by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and reported on Wednesday by the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.
Last month Mendelblit announced that he had decided to file criminal charges against Sara Netanyahu for aggravated fraud, fraud and breach of trust, but conditioned the filing of the indictment on a pre-indictment hearing. The alleged fraud involves 359,000 shekels ($102,000) in expenses for meals purportedly ordered from restaurants and for the cost of hiring private chefs to work at the Prime Minister’s Residence, on the false pretense that there was no cook at the residence.
The document accuses Sara Netanyahu and Ezra Saidoff, the deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, of acting systematically “to bypass the rules and restrictions, to fraudulently fund meals at the public's expense,” Yedioth Ahronoth reported.
“Mrs. Netanyahu directed the chief caretaker, Meni Naftali, as well as Meir Cohen, another residence employee, that the fact that [chefs] are employed at the residence should not be disclosed to anyone who is not a residence employee, so that it is not revealed to the bookkeeping and administrative staff of the [Prime Minister’s] Office,” the document reportedly says.
It mentions 15 instances in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s family ordered chefs to cook for personal family guests who had been invited to the residence. The chefs were said to have been ordered “at the request of Mrs. Netanyahu despite the fact that there was a cook employed by the residence” at the time.
In response to the disclosure of Mendelblit’s draft document, Sara Netanyahu’s lawyers, Yossi Cohen and Amit Hadad, said: “What’s new? This is a [report] recycling things that have already been reported. We will provide answers to the attorney general. We are confident that we are in the right.” A response on behalf of Saidoff, the deputy director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, said that he hopes that following a pre-indictment hearing, the matter will be closed.
Subject to a pre-indictment hearing, Saidoff is facing 393,000 shekels in fraud allegations, although the discrepancy between this amount and the slightly larger figure in the allegations against Mrs. Netanyahu is not clear.
Last month, Mendelblit announced that he was closing the investigation against the prime minister’s wife into the employment of an electrician, Avi Fahima, on Shabbat and holidays at the Netanyahu family’s residence in Caesarea and was also closing investigations involving allegedly inflated expenses for waiters at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem and regarding custodial nursing care provided to Sara Netanyahu’s father.