The wife of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday admitted to fraudulently using state funds for meals, The Times of Israel reported. Sara Netanyahu asked a Jerusalem court to approve a plea bargain convicting her of fraud and breach of trust.
Under the agreement, Sara Netanyahu will escape a conviction of aggravated fraud, but would have to plead guilty to exploiting the mistake of another person and to paying a fine along with compensation.
“Indeed, the defendant misused public funds,” Justice Avital Chen was quoted by The Times of Israel as saying while announcing the verdict. Chen admitted that the case for the prosecution had not been smooth but also highlighted the fact that Sara Netanyahu had “taken responsibility and saved a lot of precious judicial time.”
Sara Netanyahu told the judge she had “suffered enough” after the verdict was announced.
She will have to pay a fine of NIS 55,000 (Rs 10,66,717) and the rest as restitution under the approved deal. Her request to pay the money in two separate payments was agreed to by the judge, the first of which will need to be paid on July 15.
Prosecutor Erez Padan called the conviction a “good result”. She said: “So is the fact that a conviction has been achieved without a single witness going on the stand, with the defendant taking responsibility.”
Netanyahu’s attorney Yossi Cohen claimed the verdict was aimed at hurting Benjamin Netanyahu and toppling his government. “This is one of the most severe and hurtful punishments that a person I know has received,” Cohen said in court. “This is the result of four years of ugly, tendentious, libelous leaks that spilled my client’s blood. They forgot she is also a mother, a wife”, according to The Times of Israel.
Prime Minister Netanyahu in a statement said, “Sara Netanyahu is a strong and honourable woman and there has never been any fault in her actions,” BBC reported.
The first lady had been indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust last year for allegedly misusing state funds and using around $100,000 to pay for catered meals by falsely declaring there were no cooks available at the prime minister’s official residence. The residence is not allowed to order prepared food if a chef is present. She has also faced accusations of mistreating staff, AFP reported.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also facing a separate trail for breach of trust and bribery charges. He is also reportedly seeking legislation that would grant him immunity.
He will face re-election in September 17 again, the second polls to be held this year after he was unable to form a coalition in April.