Jerusalem (AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara was charged Thursday with fraud and breach of trust after a lengthy probe into allegations she misused state funds to claim for delivery meals costing $100,000.
The move represents the latest legal headache for Netanyahu and his family, as the authorities investigate the combative leader over allegations of corruption in a string of eye-catching cases.
The justice ministry announced that “the Jerusalem district prosecutor… filed charges against the prime minister’s wife”.
The ministry said Sara Netanyahu, who turns 60 in November, was accused of falsely declaring there were no cooks available at the premier’s official residence and ordering “hundreds of meals from outside caterers at public expense”.
From 2010 to 2013 Netanyahu, her family and guests received “fraudulently from the state hundreds of prepared meals (each including a number of courses) to the value of 359,000 shekels ($99,700)”, the indictment read.
Netanyahu, a high-profile presence at her husband’s side throughout his lengthy time at the helm, has denied any wrongdoing.
Her lawyers, in a statement, dismissed the charges as “delusional” and pointed out that she herself had not ordered the meals, many of which were for official guests and in some cases for residence staff.
According to the charge sheet, the meals were ordered from a variety of well-known Jerusalem establishments, including an Italian restaurant, a Middle Eastern grill joint and a sushi establishment.
The trial, which could run for months, is to be held in the Jerusalem magistrates court, with the prosecution requesting a panel of three judges due to the “public sensitivity” of the case.
– Husband’s legal woes –
The legal woes come as Netanyahu’s husband himself is under the microscope on suspicion of a series of corruption offences.
In one case, the prime minister and his family are suspected of receiving one million shekels worth of luxury cigars, champagne and jewellery from wealthy individuals in exchange for financial or personal favours.
In another case, investigators suspect the premier of trying to reach an agreement with the owner of Yediot Aharonot, a top Israeli newspaper, for more favourable coverage.
Netanyahu has protested his innocence and vowed to remain in power, saying he is the victim of a “witch-hunt”.
He also faces suspicions of government favours that allegedly saw regulatory breaks go to Israel’s largest telecom firm Bezeq, in return for favourable coverage of him and his wife by a news website.
He was questioned last week as a witness in a probe of alleged corruption over the state purchase of three German submarines.
He is not considered a suspect, but some of his close associates have been questioned several times.
The case centres on alleged graft surrounding Germany’s sale to Israel of three submarines manufactured by industrial giant ThyssenKrupp.
Despite his troubles, opinion polls suggest Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party would remain the largest in parliament if elections scheduled for November 2019 were held now.