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4 Sep, 2017 21:18

Israeli PM’s wife faces fraud charges over wasting $100k of public funds – report

Israeli PM’s wife faces fraud charges over wasting $100k of public funds – report

Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is to be charged with fraud over allegedly misspending public funds at a time when her husband is also a suspect in two corruption cases, Israel’s Haaretz daily reports.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is expected to indict Mrs. Netanyahu, the prime minister’s third wife, in the coming weeks, Haaretz reports, citing its sources. She is accused of diverting 400,000 shekels ($112,000) from government funds for her private housekeeping needs.

She reportedly threw lavish dinner parties at the prime minister’s residence, improperly ordered chef’s meals in violation of the residence regulations and later concealed these facts. One of the most serious accusations against her involves hiring an electrician by circumventing the required tender process, the Times of Israel reports.

The electrician, Avi Fahima, who was also a member of the Central Committee of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, was hired despite the Prime Minister’s Legal Office ruling against it. He was also reportedly paid some $2,500 from public funds for the work he did at Netanyahu’s private residence in the town of Caesarea, according to the i24news TV Channel.

The State Comptroller also suspects he was overpaid for the work.

Further suspicions reportedly involve the use of public funds for the purchase of furniture for the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem that was then moved to the family’s private house, while the furniture in the official residence was replaced by older furniture from the house in Caesarea.

Mrs. Netanyahu is also suspected of improper use of state funds for her late father’s medical care at the time, when he lived at the prime minister’s residence, according to local media. The Times of Israel reported that Sara Netanyahu could face four separate charges, including fraud, falsification of documents and breach of trust.

The investigation against Sara Netanyahu is based on the findings of a 2015 report by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira, who found that she allegedly used state funds to cover her private expenses. The Israeli police recommended filing charges against her as early as May 2016.

The case was opened in February 2015 with the approval of the attorney general and the state prosecutor, after suspicions were raised about possible criminal offenses, including “fraudulent receipt, fraud and breach of trust, including addressing mutual accusations,” a police statement said at that time, adding that the investigation into the cases had been concluded.

Sara Netanyahu continues to deny any wrongdoing. Israel’s Channel 2 TV reported on September 2 that she had taken a private lie detector test in a bid to support her statements. She took the test at the Tal Polygraph center at her “own initiative” to “prove her version of events,” the center said, adding that the test showed she was telling the truth, according to the report.

However, lie detector tests are inadmissible in Israeli courts, local media report. In the meantime, the family’s lawyer, Yossi Cohen, denounced the charges against Sara Netanyahu as "ridiculous.”

“How far will the persecution of the Netanyahu family go? Until the cup of tea that an employee of the residence gave Mrs. Netanyahu’s 97-year-old father on his deathbed while he lived there?” he said, as cited by the i24news channel.

The allegations come while Benjamin Netanyahu is also a suspect in two corruption cases. The first one refers to allegations the politician received bribes from an Israeli-American businessman. In another case, Netanyahu is suspected of holding talks with an Israeli newspaper publisher about limiting competition in the news business in return for more positive coverage.

In early August, police said that corruption investigations involving Benjamin Netanyahu revolve around “bribery, fraud and breach of trust,” The Times of Israel reported. Several opposition members have called on the Israeli PM to step down.

In response, Netanyahu said that his critics in the opposition as well as his own party have been conspiring to topple him “for many years,” adding that it “would not happen.”“They are trying to get me, attempting to topple the Right,” Netanyahu said at that time, adding that he has “nothing to fear.”