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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Israeli prime minister's wife one step away from corruption trial

Sara Netanyahu is accused of spending $100,000 of public funds on ordering meals 

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara arrive for the Likud party primary elections in Jerusalem on December 31, 2014. Israel's attorney general formally notified Mrs Netanyahu on September 8, 2017 that she may be put on trial for misuse of public funds. Oded Balilty / AP Photo
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara arrive for the Likud party primary elections in Jerusalem on December 31, 2014. Israel's attorney general formally notified Mrs Netanyahu on September 8, 2017 that she may be put on trial for misuse of public funds. Oded Balilty / AP Photo

The wife of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been formally told that she faces a possible trial over alleged misuse of public funds.

"The attorney general has informed the counsel of Mrs Sara Netanyahu, wife of the prime minister, that he is considering putting her on trial, over her part in the 'catering affair'," the justice ministry said on Friday.

Mrs Netanyahu and an aide are alleged to have ordered food from outside caterers at public expense after falsely claiming that there were no cooks available at the prime minister's official government residence in Jerusalem.

"In this way, hundreds of meals from restaurants and chefs were fraudulently obtained from chefs and restaurants at a cost of 359,000 shekels [Dh374,750]," the ministry said.

"For this reason the attorney general is considering putting Mrs Netanyahu on trial for the offences of obtaining a benefit by fraud under aggravated circumstances, and (other) offences of fraud and breach of trust."

Mrs Netanyahu will be allowed to argue her case to Israeli attorney general Avichai Mandelblit at a hearing before he makes a final decision on whether to press charges.

"The decision will be taken after the attorney general examines the evidence in the file and hears the positions of the relevant parties and the recommendations of the state prosecutor and the Jerusalem district prosecutor's office," the ministry said.

Mr Netanyahu, 67, is himself under investigation on suspicion of corruption, and last month his former chief of staff signed a deal to turn state's witness in probes involving the premier.

On Wednesday Mr Netanyahu denied any wrongdoing after reports alleged that Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan was questioned by Israeli police over whether he received favours from the premier in exchange for expensive gifts.

Milchan allegedly gave Mr Netanyahu and his wife gifts including expensive cigars, jewellery and pink champagne.

Israeli media said he was grilled under caution by detectives of the Israeli fraud squad during a session at the Israeli embassy in London.

"Any attempt to describe as inappropriate the deep and long-standing friendship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Arnon Milchan is baseless and in any case doomed to failure," a Netanyahu family spokesman said.

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Read more: Netanyahu's possible downfall gives Palestinians little reason for optimism

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Another investigation is looking into whether Mr Netanyahu sought a secret deal with the publisher of top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot.

The proposed deal, which is not believed to have been finalised, would have seen Mr Netanyahu receive positive coverage in return for helping to scale down the operations of Israel Hayom, Yediot's main competitor.

Mr Netanyahu has been questioned over both cases.

The investigations have stirred Israeli politics and led to speculation over whether Mr Netanyahu will eventually be forced to step down, which he is not formally obliged to do unless convicted.

He denies all allegations.

Mrs Netanyahu's lawyer said on Sunday that she had successfully taken a voluntary lie detector test at a private facility to try to dispel the allegations against her.

Results of polygraph testing are not admissible as evidence in Israeli criminal trials.

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