‘Enough food for a football team’: Israel’s first lady Sara Netanyahu to be indicted over her lavish spending on catering

Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the attorney general’s statement in a Facebook post, blaming the inflated spending on his former housekeeper

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 September, 2017, 1:12pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 September, 2017, 9:42pm

Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is likely to be indicted on fraud-related charges in a case that peers into spending on catered meals and lifestyle in the official residence, a statement by Israel’s attorney general said on Friday.

The investigation – called the “meals ordering affair” – alleges the prime minister’s wife and the head of the operational resources unit in the official residence falsified documents so food from outside companies and private chefs could be used, even though there was a full-time chef.

The statement by the attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, said Netanyahu is suspected of diverting some US$102,000 in public funds for this use.

Netanyahu was told that she would be able to make final arguments in the case before the state attorney issues a possible indictment, which could lead to a trial. No date has been set for such a hearing, however.

Both during Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 and since taking office in 2009, his wife has come under scrutiny for her perceived opulent lifestyle, often being portrayed by the local media as a kind of Marie Antoinette.

Who ate or took huge quantity of food, enough for a football team? Certainly not the Netanyahu family
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Last year, a former housekeeper at the official residence successfully sued the couple for abusive treatment, winning about US$43,735 in damages. During his testimony, Meni Naftali revealed intimate details about Sara Netanyahu’s lifestyle, including her taste for pink champagne and other luxuries.

In 2015, the state comptroller released a report showing excessive spending at the official residence at 2 Balfour Street in Jerusalem. It noted the Netanyahus had billed taxpayers for 92,781 shekels, or about US$24,000, for takeaway food in 2011.

Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the attorney general’s statement in a Facebook post, blaming the inflated spending on his former housekeeper, Naftali. He uploaded a bar chart, highlighting that the overspending “fell miraculously when he left.”

“Why did the expenses surge in these years? Who ate or took huge quantity of food, enough for a football team? Certainly not the Netanyahu family,” he wrote.

Netanyahu also referred to other investigations against his wife, including investigations of the purchase of garden furniture and the hiring of an electrician who was also a family friend, which the attorney general said in his statement Friday have now been closed.

“This too will evaporate in the hearing,” Netanyahu wrote. “Let the data speak for itself.”

In an earlier post on Facebook, Netanyahu called his wife a “courageous and honest woman who has never had any flaws in her actions”. He also called Naftali a “serial liar.”

Since winning his case against the Netanyahus, Naftali has been at the centre of weekly public protests against what he calls the prime minister’s corruption and the failure of the attorney general to bring indictments against the Israeli leader in at least two cases currently being investigated.

Netanyahu has officially been named a suspect in two cases. In the first, he is being investigated for allegedly receiving illegal gifts from billionaire benefactors. In the second, he is accused of attempting to cut a deal with an Israeli newspaper for better coverage in return for political favours.

A third case that does not name Netanyahu directly gained steam this week when two of his close advisers were arrested for their involvement in a multimillion-dollar deal to purchase German submarines under questionable circumstances. His personal lawyer and cousin, David Shimron, has also been arrested in that case.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu suspected of bribery, fraud, breach of trust

In response to the attorney general’s statement, Sara Netanyahu’s lawyers played up its disclosure that multiple other investigations against her have been closed or the allegations disproved.

The lawyers’ response also accused Naftali for ordering “excessive” amounts of food while he was a housekeeper.

Last Saturday, Sara Netanyahu released the results of a private lie detector test showing that she was telling the truth. She answered truthfully, the test said, to such questions as whether she had inflated the number of guests at meals to claim more money or whether she was aware of breaking official rules for ordering food. Lie detector tests, however, are not admissible as evidence in Israeli courts.