Sara Netanyahu Admits Criminal Offense in Plea Deal, Will Pay Fine

Prime minister's wife signed a plea deal on Wednesday to pay $15,000 for intentionally exploiting another person's mistake, after she had been originally charged with aggravated fraud, fraud and breach of trust

Sara Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court, Israel, June 16, 2019.
Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife, Sara, admitted Sunday before a district court to receiving something by intentionally exploiting another person’s mistake in a way that doesn’t constitute fraud, and will pay the state $15,000.   

The indictment against Netanyahu was filed in June 2018, alleging that the prime minister’s wife 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.

Netanyahu signed Wednesday a plea deal after she had been originally charged with aggravated fraud, fraud and breach of trust. Though her offense no longer construes as fraud, it is still criminal.

Prosecutor Erez Padan said that the prosecution has made "significant concessions," that led to a "balanced and right plea deal."

Padan added that "Like in every plea deal, all sides make concessions, at times not easy ones. Netanyahu's consent to be convicted shows she assumes responsibility. The plea deal takes into account that difficulties to obtain evidence have emerged in this case, whose management was expected to be complex. This is not a simple case nor free of risks.

"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, confirmed the plea bargain. "Public interest has been preserved in its entirety. My client's unwritten punishment is one of the most heavy and painful punishments."

Cohen added 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."

Cohen also elaborated Netanyahu's work for Israeli society, saying that "Every moment of her time is dedicated to the country and the public and it's all voluntary."

Likud MK Miki Zohar said the Netanyahu's "courageous admission was extracted against her will to end this hallucinatory saga. Any objective person would say it's delusional to transform the hosting of politicians and world leaders in the Prime Minister's residence into a criminal offence. So much hatred, so much persecution of people who decide to dedicate themselves to the State of Israel. History will judge you."           

Under the plea agreement, Netanyahu will repay the treasury 45,000 shekels ($12,552), pay a fine of 10,000 shekels and will be convicted of receiving something by intentionally exploiting another person’s mistake in a way that doesn’t constitute fraud.

On Monday, the prosecution informed the High Court of Justice that the plea bargain had been agreed on but hadn’t yet been signed. It also said Netanyahu had requested that the submission of the plea bargain and the amended indictment be postponed by one day, because she needs another day “to clarify her position regarding the emerging plea bargain,” in the words of Cohen. The request for a postponement was submitted to the magistrate’s court with the prosecution’s consent.

A plea deal was reached with the former deputy chief of the prime minister’s bureau, Ezra Saidoff, who was involved in ordering the catered meals and who will admit to the same crime. He will have to pay a fine of 10,000 shekels and do 120 hours of community service.

The agreement was preceded by more than half a year of negotiations, during which Judge Mordechay Caduri pressed the sides to come to a compromise. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit also preferred to avoid a trial. Before an indictment was handed down, Mendelblit proposed that Netanyahu admit to the allegations, promise not to repeat them and pay some of the money back to the state, but she rejected the proposal.

There were several other proposals made that were all rejected, mainly because of the sums the prosecution wanted Netanyahu to pay back, even though under some of the suggestions there would have been no conviction or conviction on a lesser charge.