Saturday 20 October 2018

Israeli PM’s wife accused of using public funds to order meals from top chefs

Sara Netanyahu is accused of fraud and breach of trust.

Sara Netanyahu has been charged with fraud (Francois Mori/AP)
Sara Netanyahu has been charged with fraud (Francois Mori/AP)

By Associated Press Reporter

The wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been charged with misusing £75,000 of public funds to order lavish meals from famous chefs.

The PM was not directly implicated in the case but the charges against Sara Netanyahu threaten to embarrass the long-serving leader and bring back attention to his own legal problems.

Mr Netanyahu has basked in months of political success, including the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and its move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, taking away attention from a series of corruption investigations facing him.

Sara Netanyahu has for a long time faced allegations of abusive behaviour and living extravagantly. In 2016, a court ruled she abused an employee and awarded the man £31,000 in damages. Other former employees have accused her of mistreatment, charges the Netanyahus have vehemently denied.

The Justice Ministry said Sara Netanyahu was charged with fraud and breach of trust for allegedly overspending more than £75,000 on private meals at the prime minister’s official residence, even when there was a full-time chef on staff. A former deputy director of the official residence was also charged.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also faces corruption allegations (Ronen Zvulun/AP)

Sara Netanyahu acted “to circumvent the rules and conditions” governing the official residence “in order to fraudulently obtain state funding for various expenses for the accused and her family that were not supposed to be financed in this manner”, the indictment said.

In a statement, her lawyers called the indictment “baseless and delusional”. It said she was not even aware of the regulations, that the food had been ordered by an assistant and served primarily to staff and visiting dignitaries.

“This is the first time in Israel and in the world that the wife of a leader is brought to justice over food trays,” it said. “There was no fraud or breach of trust here or deceptively receiving things or any other crime.”

If convicted, she could face a maximum sentence of five years in jail although that seemed unlikely. It was unclear when her trial would begin.

The indictment threatens to reinforce the unflattering reputation the Netanyahus have gained for enjoying an expensive lifestyle out of touch with most Israelis.

Mr Netanyahu also faces several police investigations into alleged corruption. The Netanyahus have denied any wrongdoing, and say they are the victims of a political witch hunt and hostile media.

Israeli police questioned Mr Netanyahu, his wife and son last week in connection to a corruption case involving the country’s telecom giant, Bezeq.

Mr Netanyahu is suspected of promoting regulations worth hundreds of millions of dollars for the company in return for more favourable coverage of the Netanyahu family on the telecom company’s influential news site.

Press Association

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