JERUSALEM – Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, was indicted Thursday on charges that she defrauded the Israeli government of close to $100,000 in improper expenses, largely by hiring some of Jerusalem's best-known chefs to cater hundreds of private meals while covering up the fact that the prime minister's residence already employed a full-time cook.
Benjamin Netanyahu himself was not named in the indictment, though he is the subject of a handful of separate corruption investigations.
The charges announced against Sara Netanyahu include breach of trust, though she does not hold a formal public position, and cover the years 2010 through 2013. Accusing her of "exploiting her status as the wife of the prime minister," prosecutors said Sara Netanyahu and a top aide colluded in a "planned, ongoing and systematic" scheme both to break government rules and to prevent state accountants from learning of her trespasses.
According to the indictment, "… the accused acted jointly to fund at the cost of the public coffers ready meals from restaurants, and this while simultaneously receiving the services of a full-time cook in the residence, who was falsely presented to the office as a cleaning worker."
Sara Netanyahu and the aide, Ezra Saidoff, a manager in the prime minister's office, are accused of falsifying household financial records, misidentifying kitchen staff members as maintenance workers and inflating the hours worked by hand-picked outside waiters to show a lower rate of pay that fell within state guidelines.
To keep the cost per person within the guidelines, the prosecutors say, Saidoff also padded the number of occasions and the number of people who attended.
"On the basis of the demands of the accused [Sara Netanyahu] to employ chefs in the residence for the purpose of cooking meals they hosted privately and in order to fund the high cost of the meals, the accused [Saidoff] acted in such a way that the overall cost of these meals was divided into a larger number of portions than the number of portions actually provided, and sometimes 'spread them out' over a number of dates," the charges said.
In a statement, lawyers for Sara Netanyahu called the indictment "absurd and delusional," cast blame on a former household superintendent and said "the Netanyahu family did not consume most of the food," which was eaten by other people, including guests and staff.
The attorney general of Israel, Avichai Mandelblit, filed Thursday's indictment over the objections of Sara Netanyahu's lawyers. One of them, Jacob Weinroth, gave an interview recently in which he said that the case could have been avoided had Sara Netanyahu made restitution, but that she had refused to do so.
The various investigations of Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, are quietly proceeding. The prime minister himself was questioned last week in an inquiry into whether he had acted to help the Bezeq telecommunications company in exchange for glowing coverage from its Walla news site subsidiary.