With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already under close legal scrutiny for his role in the Bezeq-Walla Affair, on Thursday his wife was indicted on Thursday over allegations that she misused state funds.
Sara Netanyahu stands accused of ordering hundreds of meals using government funds to the prime minister’s residence totaling over $100,000. At the same time she deceptively claimed the residence had no cook, even though there was a cook employed on the state’s dime, presumably in order to keep the expensive outside ordered meals coming and to avoid exposure.
What’s now being called the “Prepared Food Affair” exploded in Israeli media the moment Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit issued the indictment. Though reporters first learned of the impending charges two weeks ago, all attempts at plea bargaining failed and resulted in the formal charges.
Sara Netanyahu’s lawyers reportedly exhausted every avenue to avoid her being slapped with a criminal record, even offering for her to give public apology while returning some of the fraudulently obtained funds, according to the Jerusalem Post.
The indictment has added immense pressure and further scrutiny upon the legally embattled prime minister, who could face an indictment related to bribery charges in the Bezeq-Walla case sometime within the next year. Though PM Netanyahu is not expected to resign over his wife’s fraud case, a similar scandal in the 1970’s involving Leah Rabin, wife of then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, forced Rabin’s resignation from office during his first term (1974–77).
Notably, a key witnesses in the prime minister’s bribery scandal, a former close adviser to the Netanyahu family named Nir Hefetz, is also a key witness against Sara.
The Jerusalem Post summarizes the details of the indictment as follows:
In the Prepared Food Affair, the prosecution alleges that from September 2010 until March 2013, Sara Netanyahu acted in coordination with then-Prime Minister’s Office deputy director-general Ezra Seidoff falsely claiming that the Prime Minister’s Residence did not employ a cook, even though it did during that time.
According to the allegations, the two made the false claim to circumvent and exploit regulations that stated, “in a case where a cook is not employed in the official residence, it is permitted to order prepared food as needed.” The two hoped to obtain state funding both for the cook at the residence and for prepared food orders. In this way, the two allegedly fraudulently obtained from the state NIS 359,000 in hundreds of prepared food orders.
More than merely ordering expensive food, paperwork was deliberately falsified to line the pockets of residence staff with state funds:
Furthermore, in 15 instances, invoices to chefs who were brought in from outside were falsified in order to circumvent limits on how much could be paid toward outside-chefs. Seidoff directed the chefs, the house managers and Netanyahus’ secretaries to falsify the invoices in these 15 instances.
Netanyahu’s defense has been to claim she was not directly involved to the point of being unaware of the forged paperwork and food orders, blaming the Prime Minister’s Residence managers. The charges stem from food orders and invoices going all the way back to 2010, soon after PM Netanyahu first assumed office.
One residence manager at the heart of the affair, Meni Naftali, has already admitted to criminal wrongdoing in the episode. The defense will try to build a case that it was Naftali and other staff that mishandled the orders and falsified paperwork of their own volition and not under supervision of Netanyahu.