Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife was charged Thursday with fraud and accused of spending public funds on some $96,000 worth of catered meals from celebrity chefs.
While the Netanyahu family vehemently denied the allegations, an Israeli Justice Ministry indictment claimed Sara Netanyahu and a former deputy director at the prime minister’s residence spent the funds on lavish meals even though the residence had a full-time chef on staff.
Israeli law prohibit catering to government employees from outside restaurants when an official chef is already on staff, according to the indictment, which claimed Mrs. Netanyahu knowingly attempted to circumvent the law by ordering the residence chef to be listed as a maintenance employee.
News reports characterized the indictment as an embarrassing blow to Israel’s first family, drawing fresh attention to a series of separate corruption investigations that have plaguing Mr. Netanyahu in recent months.
The Netanyahus claim they are victims of a political witch hunt and hostile media, which has long framed Mrs. Netanyahu as living an extravagant lifestyle being abusive to employees.
An Israeli court ruled in 2016 that the Israeli first lady had, indeed, abused an employee and awarded the man $42,000 in damages. Other former employees have also claimed mistreatment, accusations the Netanyahus say are false.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz maintained Thursday that the current investigation into lavish meal payouts began in 2015, but that the indictment only came to the fore after Mrs. Netanyahu denied the allegations and refused to reach a deal with prosecutors.
Israel’s Justice Ministry said she was charged with fraud and breach of trust and that the former deputy director of the official residence was also charged. It was not immediately clear when a trial may be held. If convicted, Mrs. Netanyahu could face a maximum sentence of five years in prison, although that appeared unlikely Thursday.
A statement posted on the Israeli prime minister’s Facebook page called the indictment “baseless and delusional,” saying Mrs. Netanyahu was not aware of the regulations on paying for outside chefs — and that the meals were 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,” the statement said. “There was no fraud or breach of trust here or deceptively receiving things or any other crime.”
In February, meanwhile, Israeli protesters called for Mr. Netanyahu to resign amid allegations he took bribes in the form of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cigars, champagne and jewelry in exchange for favors to billionaire friends.
Mr. Netanyahu has angrily dismissed the allegations, which saw police recommended indicting him on corruption charges, claiming his acceptance of nearly $300,000 in gifts from Australian billionaire James Packer and Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan amounted to bribery.
A police report outlining the allegations said Mr. Netanyahu accepted gifts in exchange for helping Mr. Milchan with U.S. visa matters, and for trying to legislate a generous tax break for him and promote his interests in Israel.
⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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