Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said Friday the prime minister’s wife Sara Netanyahu will be indicted for fraud and breach of trust for excessive spending on catering at the prime minister’s residence while falsely claiming the house did not employ a cook.
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The indictment for spending 359,000 shekels ($102,000) of state funds on the catering is subject to a hearing, whose date has not yet been announced.
The Netanyahus have accused the former chief caretaker of the residence, Meni Naftali, of inflating the residence’s expenses. The case has been under investigation for over two years since State Comptroller Joseph Shapira released a report on the issue.
Ezra Saidoff, a former deputy director at the Prime Minister’s Office, will be charged with fraudulently receiving items worth 393,000 shekels.
Mendelblit also announced that three other cases against Sara Netanyahu would be closed. These focused on her employment of an electrician at the Netanyahus' Caesarea home on Saturdays and holidays, waiters at the official Jerusalem residence, and caretakers for Sara Netanyahu's father, who died in 2011.
Mendelblit said it had not been proved that Sara Netanyahu was aware that the electrician and waiters were employed illegally, or that she was aware that extra payments were made to her father’s caretakers from state funds.
According to Mendelblit, "special circumstances should be taken into account" in the latter case. The investigation "shows that the cleaning workers took care of Mrs. Netanyahu's father for only a few days each, six years ago, while the father required nursing care in the last few months before his death," Mendelblit said in a statement, adding that the sums paid to the caretakers were modest.
Saidoff will be indicted for the employment of the electrician and waiters.
Responding to the attorney general's announcement, Benjamin Netanyahu once again accused Naftali of inflating spending on food during his tenure as chief caretaker of the official residence.
“Why did the expenses rise especially in those years? Who ate or took the immense number of meal trays that would be enough to feed a soccer team? Certainly not the Netanyahu family. You should understand that the entire story against the prime minister’s wife is based on this,” Netanyahu said on Facebook.
"We were told about lawn furniture, an electrician, bottles, waiters, a caretaker – and in the end the only thing that remains is this ridiculous and false story about meal trays, the bulk of which were ordered by Meni Naftali. This, too, will go away during the hearing."
On Thursday, Netanyahu said on Facebook that the claims "are absurd and will be proved baseless. Sara Netanyahu is a brave and honest woman and has never done anything wrong. Alongside her work as an expert educational psychologist treating children every week, she spends a lot of time helping children with cancer, Holocaust survivors and lone soldiers."
In May 2016, the police recommended that Sara Netanyahu be tried for fraudulently receiving items under aggravated circumstances, and using public funds for private expenses. She denied the allegations.
About a month ago at a rally of Likud supporters, the prime minister described the investigation as a preoccupation with unimportant matters. “They’re dealing with the most important things in the world,” he told supporters sarcastically, “the procedure for replacing a light bulb, trays of food, the cup of tea that was served to her father, a righteous man, on his deathbed.”
The decision to indict Sara Netanyahu in the residence affair is the first in a series of moves to be made in the coming months in cases in which the prime minister and members of his inner circle are suspects.
Inflating invoices for chefs
The investigators found that in at least 15 different cases, chefs were summoned to the prime minister’s residences to prepare meals for Sara Netanyahu’s guests and members of her family. The bills for those meals were altered to inflate the number of diners, thus circumventing the maximum price permitted per person invited to dine at the official residence at a meal provided by an outside chef.
Saidoff is believed to have instructed the chefs, caretakers and Sara Netanyahu's secretaries to forge the invoices for the meals. On receiving the invoices, Saidoff allegedly signed off on them and passed them on to the accounting department. The investigation found that there was no basis to believe that Netanyahu was aware of the misrepresentation of meals cooked by chefs for private guests, or of falsifying invoices for these meals.
Fraudulently employing servers
Saidoff and Netanyahu’s secretaries lied about employing servers at the official residence on weekends, the investigators also said. They presented those employees as cleaning employees or supplementary workers, and also lied about the number of hours that the servers actually worked, the investigators said. This was due to those servers’ request for higher pay than that agreed with their contracting company.
Investigators said that Saidoff instructed the servers, caretakers and secretaries to report a greater number of hours to their company of employment through which the residence had contracted them to receive that higher rate of pay, knowing that the reported times were false. The workers followed Saidoff’s instructions.
As a result of these actions, the Prime Minister’s Office paid more than it was permitted. Saidoff is facing trial for fraud of 29,000 shekels in this case. Mendelblit said it was not proved that Sara Netanyahu was aware that the servers’ hiring was illegal or that she was aware of the false representations. Therefore, it was decided to close the case against her in the absence of sufficient evidence.
Ten thousand shekels for an electrician
Regarding employing the electrician Avi Fahima at the Netanyahus’ private residence in Caesarea, in violation of regulations, with false details of dates and work carried out, Saidoff will stand trial alone.
It was again not proved that Sara Netanyahu was aware that the agreement with Fahima was illegal, the investigators said. It is suspected that in this case, too, Saidoff deceived the Prime Minister’s Office in hiring the electrician and paying bills that topped 10,000 shekels all told.