Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Israel, Sunday Oct. 7, 2018. (Abir Sultan/Pool via AP)

Israeli PM's wife goes on trial for fraud

October 07, 2018 - 9:57 am

JERUSALEM (AP) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife appeared in court Sunday for the start of her trial over alleged fraud and breach of trust, drawing renewed attention to the many scandals plaguing the prime minister and his family.

Sara Netanyahu has been charged with allegedly overspending roughly $100,000 on celebrity chefs at the prime minister's official residence, even when there was a full-time chef on staff.

Mrs. Netanyahu appeared before the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court wearing a dark jacket and white shirt, her hair coiffed and curled. She flashed a nervous smile to a courtroom packed with reporters but made no remarks before the press was asked to leave.

Transcripts from police investigations have sporadically been leaked to the media, painting an unflattering picture of Netanyahu. In them she complains about the quality of food served at the prime minister's residence and uses expletives to describe the staff.

Mrs. Netanyahu has long faced allegations of extravagant spending and abusive behavior. In 2016, a court ruled she abused a housekeeper and awarded the man $42,000 in damages. Other former employees have also claimed mistreatment and accused her of charging the state for her private and lavish tastes, including pink champagne and other luxuries.

The prime minister has slammed the indictment, calling the allegations against his wife "baseless and delusional." The family has vehemently denied wrongdoing and claim they are the victims of a political witch hunt driven by a hostile media.

According to her indictment, Mrs. Netanyahu acted "to circumvent the rules and conditions" governing the prime minister's official residence "in order to fraudulently obtain state funding for various expenses for the accused and her family that were not supposed to be financed in this manner."

Netanyahu's lawyers have argued she was oblivious to the regulations and that the meals were ordered by an assistant and served to visiting dignitaries.

If convicted, Mrs. Netanyahu could face a maximum sentence of five years behind bars for the most serious charge, though that appears unlikely.

The indictment is one of a series of scandals swirling around the prime minister and his family that threaten to solidify their reputation as overindulgent and out of touch with the Israeli people.

Police questioned Prime Minister Netanyahu for several hours on Friday as part of investigations into alleged corruption by the long-serving premier.

Israeli police have already recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two separate cases. In one case, the prime minister is suspected of accepting lavish gifts from a pair of billionaire friends. In another, he is accused of promoting regulations that provided hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits to Israeli telecom giant Bezeq in exchange for positive media coverage.

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