Sara Netanyahu's fraud trial postponed three months: court
Abir Sultan, Pool Photo via AP, File
The trial of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, charged with fraud and breach of trust, was postponed on Monday for three months.
Israel's Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit filed the indictment last month against Israel’s first lady for allegedly spending over $100,000 of state funds for gourmet meals and outside caterers after falsely claiming that there were no available cooks at the prime minister’s residence.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court reportedly accepted a request from attorney Yossi Cohen to postpone the trial’s opening hearing due to a conflict with another case he is working on.
The delay was approved by judge Avital Chen "at the request of the state attorney's office and the accused's representative," it said, reportedly further protracted by the court’s summer recess that begins in August and continues through the Jewish holidays in September.
The trial will open on October 7 at 1:30 p.m., instead of July 19 as originally scheduled.
Wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sara Netanyahu, was charged on Thursday with fraud and breach of trust after a drawn out police probe into allegations she falsified household expenses, said Israel's justice ministry.
Israel's Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit filed the indictment Thursday afternoon after much speculation over whether she would in fact be charged over evidence that she had fraudulently spent over $100,000 on gourmet meals and outside caterers at the public's expense.
The premier's wife had falsely claimed that there were no available cooks at the residence. She continues to deny any wrongdoing.
Sara's attorneys gave a substantial response to the indictment, calling the allegations "absurd and delusional," expounding that it was "the first time in Israel and around the world, a leader's wife is prosecuted for food in the hot trays. There was no fraud or breach of trust or any offense."
The response asserted that the premiere's wife is not a public servant and was simply unaware of the appropriate procedures, as she apparently explained while subject to a lie detector test, adding that she did not even order the service.
"The wife of the prime minister, who is not a public servant, did not even know the procedures and turned out to be saying the truth in a lie detector test when asked about it. The wife of the prime minister is not the one who ordered the food and the trays, but the former housekeeper Mani Naftali, as he himself admitted in the Herzliya court," the attorneys stated.
Most of the food was consumed by guests and household workers -- supposed to be accounted for under another budget -- rather than the Netanyahu family, the statement added.
Sara's main defense appears to hinge on what the attorneys referred to as the "biggest absurdity of the indictment," arguing that the procedure cited was hastily written just days before Netanyahu took office in March 2009, and that it was never approved by the parliamentary finance committee as authorized under Basic Law, the closest thing Israel has to a constitution.
Regardless, the attorneys contend, Netanyahu and his "family's economic expenses at the prime minister's residence will be paid by the State, as also mandated for the president's residence."
The indictment came nine months after Mandelblit first stated his intention to prosecute Sara Netanyahu.
Her husband is also the subject of several corruption investigations which have caused a stir in Israeli politics, prompting speculation he may eventually be forced to step down.
In one case, he and family members are suspected of receiving one million shekels ($285,000, 240,000 euros) worth of luxury cigars, champagne and jewelry from prominently wealthy figures in exchange for financial or personal favors.
Ezra Saidoff, deputy director of operations and assets at the Prime Minister’s Office, was also charged with fraud and breach of trust for his part in ordering meals and recruiting waitstaff.
According to the indictment, between 2010 and 2013 the Prime Minister's wife ordered a total of 350,000 shekels (nearly $100,000 US dollars) worth of gourmet meals from various restaurants to the Prime Minister's Residence, a direct violation that bars outside meals being brought when a cook is employed at the residence.
Prosecutors say they have found sufficient evidence to prove that Netanyahu was aware of the violation and took certain measures to conceal the operation by instructing resident staff to hide the fact that cooks were employed at the residence, according to Haaretz.
In a win for Mrs. Netanyahu, state prosecutors did not find sufficient evidence to charge her over several other matters, including the employment of a live-in caregiver for her father, hiring an electrician by circumventing the required tender process, and transferring garden furniture paid for by the taxpayer to the family's private home in the ritzy seaside town of Caesarea.
Reports from as early as spring 2016 claimed that police would push for charges to be laid in the case.
Meanwhile, the Netanyahus remain embroiled in several other corruption and fraud investigations.
In one of the earliest cases, dubbed “Case 1,000”, the couple is suspected of receiving one million shekels ($285,000, 230,000 euros) worth of luxury cigars, champagne and jewelry from wealthy and prominent businessman, including Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian casino tycoon James Packer, in exchange for financial or personal favors.
In another case, (“Case 2,000”) investigators suspect the premier of trying to reach an agreement with the owner of Yediot Aharonot, a top Israeli daily newspaper, for more favorable coverage of himself and his wife.
A similar agreement is said to have been proposed through intermediaries to Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Israel’s Bezeq communications giant and owner of the popular Walla! news website. Both Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu have been questioned in relation to the probe, known as “Case 4,000,” of which Mrs. Netanyahu is a suspect.
In a bombshell revelation related to Case 4,000, Judge Hila Gerstl told police that in 2015, Nir Hefetz (a former personal spokesman for the Netanyahu family and suspect-turned-state’s witness in the case), offered her the job of Attorney General through an intermediary in exchange for her using her new post to kill the indictment against Sara over illegal household spending.
The cases have fueled speculation he could be forced to step down or call an early election but Netanyahu has vowed to remain in his position.
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The amounts here are immaterial. This is purely a motivated lynching. Fight it in court and use it to your advantage. This is a joke. Netanyahu is a state asset of immense value. His prestige in the World cannot be exaggerated.