Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, appeared in court on Sunday for the first hearing in the fraud trial against her, in which she is alleged to have misused state funds in ordering catered meals.
According to the indictment, Sara Netanyahu, along with a government employee, fraudulently obtained from the state more than $100,000 for hundreds of meals supplied by restaurants, bypassing regulations that prohibit the practice if a cook is employed at home.
Mrs. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.
If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison.
Looking tense, Netanyahu made no comment to reporters who had packed the tiny courtroom. She sat on a bench behind her lawyers.
“Can we ask them to move the cameras away?” she asked the lawyer for the other defendant, who replied: “You’re used to it.”
“Not like this,” Netanyahu answered. She shook her head as the prosecutor described the gravity of her case.
The session, however, dealt mainly with procedural matters. The judge set a meeting with the prosecutors and the defendants’ lawyers for Nov. 13 in which he said he hoped all sides could narrow their differences “or even resolve the case.”
But a settlement at this stage appears remote because the prosecutors would likely demand Netanyahu plead guilty, something her lawyer has ruled out. She was not asked at the hearing to enter a plea.
Netanyahu’s lawyers contend the indictment does not hold up because the regulations for ordering meals were legally invalid and a household employee had requisitioned the food despite Netanyahu’s protestations.
The prime minister, who himself is embroiled in corruption investigations, has called the allegations against his wife absurd and unfounded.
Attorneys for Mrs. Netanyahu were optimistic that the case would be thrown out of court, or at least closed quickly.
“For the first time in history an indictment was handed down on the basis of food trays, that were ordered by state witness Meni Naftali, against the wishes of Mrs. Netanyahu. The indictment process did not follow proper procedure, and on procedures in the Prime Minister’s Office that are not even on the books. This indictment will not hold water.”
Mrs. Netanyahu was indicted in June, along with her assistant Ezra Seidoff. The indictment charges the two with a series of fraud-related crime, including misappropriating government funds, receiving illegal benefits, breach of trust, and forging documents. The charges are all related to the details of the management of the prime minister’s residence.
According to the indictment, Netanyahu and Seidoff conspired to extract more than NIS 350,000 from state coffers to pay for meals in restaurants and prepared food deliveries. According to rules governing the budget of the prime minister’s residence, prepared food deliveries were banned, as a full-time cook was available to prepare meals. The indictment said that the two conspired to misrepresent the facts, claiming that the meals were ordered because no cook was on staff.
It was Naftali who was actually in charge of the residence’s budget and would have signed off on the orders; he arranged for a plea deal with prosecutors in exchange for testimony against Mrs. Netanyahu. After he struck the deal, Naftali led numerous protests demanding that Mrs. Netanyahu be indicted. His trustworthiness as a witness is likely to be a major factor in the defense’s case, attorneys for Mrs. Netanyahu said in a statement.