Israeli PM’s wife sentenced for misusing state funds

The wife of Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been fined more than $15,000 (£11,931) for misusing state funds.

Sara Netanyahu was sentenced by a Jerusalem magistrates' court on Sunday after she agreed to a plea bargain that ended the years-long saga of just one of the high-profile corruption cases involving the prime minister's family.

The court ruling settled allegations that Mrs Netanyahu had misused some $100,000 (£79,543) in state money on lavish meals.

She was indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust last year after the state attorney's office accused her of running up large tabs at luxury restaurants while the official residence employed a full-time chef between 2010 and 2013.

Sara Netanyahu
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara (Francois Mori/Pool/AP)

The settlement saw her admit to a more minor charge of "intentionally exploiting the mistake of someone else", specifically by misleading officials who did not realise she already benefited from chefs on the government payroll.

Under the terms of the bargain, Mrs Netanyahu agreed to pay $2,800 (£2,227) in fines and hand the remaining $12,500 (£9,942) back to the state. The settlement also reduced the overspending charge to $50,000 (£39,771).

The prime minister and his wife have a reputation for leading indulgent lives at public expense, which is out of touch with most Israelis.

Mrs Netanyahu, 60, in particular has been accused of excessive spending, using public money for her private, extravagant tastes and for abusive behaviour towards her personal staff.

These allegations earned her an image as the Israeli Imelda Marcos, the former Philippine first lady infamous for her collection of designer shoes.

In 2016, a court ruled Mrs Netanyahu mistreated a housecleaner and awarded the man $42,000 (£33,408) in damages.

Other employees have accused her of abuse, charges the Netanyahus reject.

Another former housekeeper is currently suing Mrs Netanyahu for $63,000 (£50,112) in damages over mistreatment and harassment.

But Mrs Netanyahu's lawyer, Yossi Cohen, portrayed his client as a victim, saying she had "been put through hell" for the past four years with a public shaming campaign that was due only to her public standing.

"Sara Netanyahu is today paying a heavy and painful personal cost to put an end to this witch hunt, and I hope that indeed this is the end of the story," he said after the hearing.

Mr Netanyahu has stood by her, calling her a "true hero" and bemoaning how she had become a "punching bag" for their opponents.

But the prime minister himself remains the main focus of the family's repeated legal troubles.

He is facing an indictment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, pending a hearing scheduled for early October.

He has pushed for a postponement and can still request an extension from the Supreme Court.

Mr Netanyahu is accused of accepting lavish gifts from billionaire friends and promising to promote advantageous legislation for a major newspaper in exchange for favourable coverage.

He vehemently denies wrongdoing, portraying himself as a victim of media-orchestrated persecution against him and his family in an attempt to oust him from power.