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Israel’s ‘meal’ scandal moves closer toward indictment of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s wife

By Ruth Eglash Washington Post

JERUSALEM – 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 Friday.

The probe – called the “meal booking affair” – alleges that the prime minister’s wife and the head of the operational resources unit in the official residence falsified documents so that 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 Mendelblit, said that Netanyahu is suspected of diverting some $102,000 in public funds for this use.

Netanyahu was informed 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 between 1996-99 and since taking office in 2003, his wife has come under scrutiny for her perceived opulent lifestyle, often being portrayed by the local media as a kind of Marie Antoinette.

Last year, a former housekeeper at the official residence successfully sued the couple for abusive treatment winning about $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 Netanyahu’s had billed taxpayers for 92,781 shekels, or about $24,000 for takeout food in 2011.

Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the attorney general’s statement in a Facebook post, laying the blame for 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 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 on Friday had now been closed.

“This too will evaporate in the hearing,” wrote Netanyahu. “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 Netanyahu’s Naftali has been at the center of weekly public protests against what he calls Prime Minister Netanyahu’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 a second, he is accused of attempting to cut a deal with an Israeli newspaper for better coverage in return for political favors.

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 the case.

Last Saturday night, 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 questions such 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.

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