Judge convicts Sara Netanyahu of misusing public funds

Israel Prime Minister's wife will pay fine

By Mike Schwartz, CNN
2018 Getty Images

Wife of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sara Netanyahu looks on as U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Oval Office of the White House March 5, 2018, in Washington, DC (Photo by…

(CNN) - An Israeli judge has convicted Sara Netanyahu of misusing public funds to pay for meals at the Prime Minister's residence.

The wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will pay a fine of 55,000 shekels ($15,200) as part of a plea agreement, made public on Wednesday, which judge Avital Chen, of the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, accepted Sunday morning.

After a more serious charge of fraud was dropped, Sara Netanyahu admitted to the lesser offense of exploiting the mistake of another person.

In a short response to the judge's decision, Sara Netanyahu told the court: "I have suffered enough."

The case involved the ordering of catered meals delivered to the residence worth a total of 175,000 shekels (just under $50,000), according to the indictment.

The food was ordered by Sara Netanyahu and Ezra Saidoff, the former manager of the residence, and paid for with state funds.

The orders were illegal under Israeli law because there was a cook employed at the residence at the time, whose job it was to cater for the prime minister, his family and their guests.

Prosecutor Jenny Avni said in court Sunday: "The significance of the verdict is that a person in a position to use public funds cannot do what they might want to do or might wish to do. Taking significant amounts of public money for many years against public rules and ordinances is a criminal offense."

Ezra Saidoff also reached a plea deal with prosecutors, his attorney, Yehoshua Resnick, said last week.

A judge is expected to decide on Saidoff's agreement in the next few weeks.

PM faces corruption cases

Far larger corruption cases are still hanging over Sara Netanyahu's husband, the Prime Minister.

Benjamin Netanyahu faces potential charges of bribery and breach of trust in three separate corruption investigations, with Israel's attorney general calling him for a pre-indictment hearing scheduled for early October.

Netanyahu's high-powered legal team has sought to delay the hearing and with it the legal process, which could give the long-time Israeli leader enough time to pass an immunity law in the Knesset, effectively shielding him from prosecution.

He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, denouncing the investigations as a media-led witch hunt.

In the first case, known as Case 1000, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced in February he intends to charge Netanyahu with breach of trust. Case 1000 deals with alleged gifts Netanyahu received from overseas billionaires totaling 1 million shekels (approximately $280,000), including cigars, champagne, jewelry and more.

The alleged transfers occurred between 2007 and 2016. In exchange for the gifts, investigators say Netanyahu tried to advance a tax break that would have benefited the businessmen.

In another case, known as Case 2000, Mandelblit plans to charge Netanyahu with another count of breach of trust. Case 2000 deals with alleged negotiations between Netanyahu and Arnon "Noni" Mozes, the owner of one of Israel's largest newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth. Investigators say Netanyahu requested more favorable coverage in exchange for limiting the circulation of Yedioth Ahronoth's largest rival, Israel Hayom, a free daily owned by right-wing mega-donor Sheldon Adelson that is viewed by critics as a Netanyahu mouthpiece.

The attorney general also announced his intention to indict Mozes with bribery. Mozes' lawyer has said his client is innocent and he expects the cases to be closed without charges being filed.

In another case, known as Case 4000, Netanyahu faces bribery and breach of trust charges. This case is arguably the largest facing the Prime Minister. It deals with the relationship between Netanyahu and Israeli telecommunications firm Bezeq. Investigators say Netanyahu advanced regulatory benefits worth 1 billion shekels (approximately $280 million) to the company and its primary shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, a friend of Netanyahu. Along with holding the position of prime minister, Netanyahu also served as the minister of communications at the time. In exchange for the benefits, the case alleges Netanyahu received favorable news coverage from Walla News!, an online news organization owned by Elovitch.

Mandelblit said he intended to indict Elovitch with bribery, pending a hearing. Like Netanyahu, Elovitch has denied any wrongdoing.

CNN's Oren Liebermann contributed to this report.

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