Sara Netanyahu: Israeli prime minister’s wife charged with fraud

The corruption scandal surrounding Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, took a new turn on Thursday when his wife Sara was charged with fraud and accused of illegally claiming £75,000 for gourmet meals. 

While both Mr and Mrs Netanyahu have been subject to widespread allegations in recent years, the indictment filed on Thursday marks the first time either of them have actually been charged with a crime.  

Israeli prosecutors said Mrs Netanyahu pretended that there was no chef working at the prime minister’s residence in order to claim public money for lavish outside catering, when a chef was in fact already employed on taxpayer’s money.  

The Netanyahus have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said the raft of police investigations launched against them were part of a plot by the prime minister’s political enemies to destablise his government. 

"Not only is the indictment based on false claims and distorted and mistaken data, it is based entirely on an illegitimate and illegal regulation imposed specifically for Prime Minister Netanyahu," lawyers for Mrs Netanyahu said.

Israeli police recommended in February that Mr Netanyahu face charges for accepting £200,000 worth of bribes. The decision on whether to actually bring charges like with Avichai Mandelblit, Israel’s attorney general. 

Israeli commentators have raised questions over whether Mr Mandelblit, who was once Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, has the independence to bring charges against his former political benefactor. 

Profile | Benjamin Netanyahu

His decision to indict Mrs Netanyahu is likely to put some of those questions to rest and be taken as a sign he is prepared to move against the prime minister if the facts of the case warrant charges.   

However, the length of time it has taken his office to charge Mrs Netanyahu for alleged crimes between 2010-2013 suggests it may be months or even years before he reaches a decision about the more complex allegations against the prime minister. 

The charges against Mrs Netanyahu were not a surprise and her attorneys were reportedly in negotiations with prosecutors to try to reach a deal to avoid an indictment. The negotiations fell through, according to Hadashot TV news. 

Despite the very public police allegations made against Mr Netanyahu, he remains popular in Israel and polls suggest that if an election were held today his Likud party would win. 

Like Donald Trump, Mr Netanyahu has been able to rally his base by presenting himself as the victim of a politically-motivated witch hunt. He may find himself on shakier ground politically if he is actually indicted, although he is under no legal obligation to resign if charged.  

Israeli police have recommended charging Mr Netanyahu in two separate investigations, known as Case 1000 and Case 2000. 

The first probe focused on claims that Mr Netanyahu and his family illegally accepted extravagant gifts like champagne and cigars from two wealthy businessmen in return for political favours. 

The second involves allegations that Mr Netanyahu offered a corrupt deal to the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, one of Israel’s largest newspapers. 

He has denied wrongdoing in both cases and has not been charged with any crime. 

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