The wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reached a plea deal in a corruption case filed against her, agreeing to pay a fine in exchange for avoiding prison.
Sara Netanyahu today signed a plea deal with the Israeli State Prosecutor’s Office, after months of negotiations in what has become known as the “catering affair”. Sara was accused of receiving catered meals at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, at a cost of around 360,000 shekels ($100,000). This was allegedly done using Israeli taxpayers’ money, despite the fact that the residence employs a full-time cook.
Under today’s plea deal, Sara will admit to and be convicted of a criminal offense which, according to Haaretz, is defined as “receiving an item by intentionally exploiting another individual’s mistake but not through fraud”. She will pay a fine of 55,000 shekels ($15,000) that will be passed on to the Israeli state.
Compared to both the value of the catered meals alleged to have been received, and given the 50 million shekel ($13.9 million) personal wealth of Sara’s husband Benjamin Netanyahu, the fine is likely to be seen as little more than a token punishment.
The plea deal also means that Sara will not admit that she defrauded the state, will not be forced to attend a hearing and, ultimately, will avoid serving prison time. Had she been convicted of fraud, she could have faced up to three years in jail.
Today’s verdict will likely be seen as a victory for the Netanyahus, particularly given the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin currently faces his own hearing for three separate corruption cases.
In what have become known by their respective case numbers 1000, 2000 and 4000, Netanyahu is accused of a number of counts of fraud, breach of trust and bribery which, if he is convicted, could see him serve up to ten years in prison.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu stands accused of accepting lavish gifts from two influential businessmen in return for favourable legislation and personal favours.
In Case 2000, Netanyahu is being investigated for promising Arnon Mozes – the owner of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aronoth – that he would curtail the circulation of Israel Hayom, Mozes’ main competitor publication, in return for favourable coverage of him and his policies.
Earlier this month, new details pertaining to Case 2000 came to light after several of the case files were leaked to Israeli media. The leak included a transcript of a conversation between Netanyahu and Mozes, in which the latter could be heard admitting to slanting coverage against Netanyahu’s election rivals ahead of the country’s 2015 election and “hiding” negative articles about his wife Sara.
Meanwhile in Case 4000 – sometimes known as the Bezeq case – Netanyahu is accused of providing regulatory benefits to Shaul Elovitch, the owner of telecom giant Bezeq, in return for favourable coverage on Elovitch’s Walla news site. Due to the similarity of the cases and the overlap of key personalities and witnesses, Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit tied the three cases together, refusing to give a verdict on one while the other was still being investigated.
In February, Mandelblit eventually announced his intention to indict Netanyahu in all three cases, pending a hearing. Though the court appearance was originally slated to take place in July, earlier this month the attorney general bowed to months of pressure from Netanyahu’s legal team and agreed to postpone the hearing until October.
Mandelblit’s decision was widely seen as capitulation in the face of Netanyahu’s demands, and has been given additional significance by the prime minister’s attempts to pass legislation which would grant him automatic immunity from prosecution, as long as he remains in office. Though given Netanyahu’s ongoing coalition woes it is, as yet, unclear whether he will be able to push through such a bill, the prime minister is unlikely to concede defeat without further struggle.