Mon, Oct 08, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Sara Netanyahu goes on trial for graft

UNWARRANTED MEALS:The Israeli prime minister’s wife has faced various accusations over the years, but went to trial yesterday over allegations that she illegally ordered food

Reuters, JERUSALEM

Sara Netanyahu, wife of the Israeli prime minister, yesterday appeared in court for the first hearing in a fraud trial against her over allegations that she misused state funds to order catered meals.

According to an indictment filed in June, Netanyahu, along with a government employee, fraudulently obtained from the state more than US$100,000 for hundreds of meals supplied by restaurants, bypassing regulations that prohibit the practice if a cook is employed at home.

She has denied any wrongdoing.

Netanyahu was charged in June with fraud and breach of trust, as well as aggravated fraudulent receipt of goods. If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison.

Looking tense as she walked into the hearing, she made no comment to reporters and sat on a bench behind her lawyers.

Israeli media reports said that the session would deal with procedural matters.

Netanyahu’s lawyers have said that the indictment does not hold up, because the regulations for ordering meals were legally invalid and a household employee had requisitioned the food, despite Netanyahu’s protestations.

“If we even get to the stage of presenting evidence, I do believe Your Honor may laugh,” one of her attorneys, Yossi Cohen, told the court.

She was not asked to enter a plea.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who himself is embroiled in a series of corruption investigations, has called the allegations against his wife absurd and unfounded.

Sara Netanyahu, 59, has inspired a multitude of headlines over what family spokespeople have called an undeserved reputation for imperiousness.

Last year, the couple won a libel suit against an Israeli journalist who said that Sara Netanyahu once kicked her husband out of their car during an argument.

In 2016, a Jerusalem labor court ruled that she had insulted and raged at household staff in the pair’s official residence.

It seemed unlikely that Sara Netanyahu’s present legal woes would cause significant political damage to her husband, now in his fourth term and riding high in opinion polls, despite the allegations against him.

Accusations he has made against the Israeli media of orchestrating a politically motivated witch hunt against him and his wife appear to have struck a chord with his right-wing voter base, which has rallied in support of the 68-year-old political veteran.

The next national elections in Israel are scheduled for November next year, but some political analysts predict that a snap election could be held sooner.

In other developments, Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday said that he would meet Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time since the downing of a Russian warplane by Syrian forces reacting to an Israeli air raid last month.

He has been trying to ease tensions with Russia since the incident.

Russia blamed Israel for the downing and responded by supplying Syria with sophisticated S-300 air defense systems.

Speaking to the Israeli Cabinet, Benjamin Netanyahu said he had stressed the importance of military coordination with Russia, while also saying that Israel “will act at all times to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence” in Syria.

Additional reporting by AP

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