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World /  Crime & Legal Israel court convicts prime minister's wife of misusing public funds to buy catered meals

JERUSALEM –  Under a plea bargain which saw her admit to lesser charges, an Israeli court on Sunday convicted the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of fraudulently using state funds for meals.

In a deal approved by Judge Avital Chen at Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court, Sara Netanyahu was found guilty of exploiting the mistake of another person.

She was also fined 10,000 shekels ($2,800) and ordered to reimburse the state a further 45,000 shekels ($12,500) .

“The deal reached between the sides is worthy and appropriately reflects the deeds and their severity on the criminal level,” Chen said in his ruling.

The 60-year-old, a high-profile presence at her husband’s side throughout his long tenure in office, was initially charged in June 2018 with fraud and breach of trust for buying catered meals despite the presence of a cook at the prime minister’s official residence.

The amended indictment, approved Sunday, dropped the graft charges.

In a small room at the court, packed with journalists, Netanyahu told the judge she was aware of the charges.

Her lawyer and a prosecutor then requested that the court accept the deal.

“As in every plea bargain, each side makes concessions, sometimes hard concessions,” prosecutor Erez Padan said.

“It is right and proper for the public interest to bring this case to an end.”

Sara Netanyahu’s attorney, Yossi Cohen, told the court his client had already been heavily punished by the media.

“Four years of ugly leaks and denigrations” constituted “inhuman punishment,” he said.

“No other person could have withstood this, this lady is made of steel,” Cohen added.

Netanyahu has a reputation for finding legal loopholes to receive state funding for her household’s relatively high expenses.

The original charges accused her of paying $100,000 for hundreds of meals from a variety of well-known Jerusalem businesses while falsely declaring there were no cooks available at the residence.

The caterers included an Italian restaurant, a Middle Eastern grill joint and a sushi house.

Sara Netanyahu is also being sued by a former cleaner who claims she was mistreated by the prime minister’s wife.

In 2016 a court awarded some $47,000 in damages to a former housekeeper who accused her of repeated workplace abuse in a similar case.

While the ruling cut short a high-profile trial, the Netanyahu family’s legal woes are far from over: The veteran prime minister himself faces possible indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the coming months.

He is reportedly seeking legislation that would result in him being granted immunity.

However, he was unable to form a coalition following an April general election, and Israel is now gearing up for September polls.

In a Facebook post late Saturday, he declared his wife a “real heroine” who was “a punching bag for the media.”

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