Kristine L Ming

Police question Sara Netanyahu under caution

Sara Netanyahu underwent police questioning under caution Thursday in connection with the ongoing criminal investigation into the Prime Minister’s Residence Affair.

Despite the very public questioning, the Justice Ministry has practically ignored the event, putting out no announcements to confirm that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein had approved opening a criminal investigation against Netanyahu, though the questioning could not have occurred without that approval.

The affair deals with a series of smaller investigations such as Bottlegate, Furniture Gate and Electrician Gate which deal with allegations of misuse of state funds in the management of the residence, for the personal gain of the Netanyahu family.

There is also the most recently added affair with allegations that Sara used public funds for her father’s medical care while he was in the residence.

The investigation had focused so far on Ezra Seidoff, one of the top deputies in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. The Prime Minister himself has been cleared of suspicion in the case. Bottlegate refers to allegations that Sara Netanyahu may have improperly turned in deposit bottles in exchange for NIS 4,000 cash, though the bottles were bought with state funds.

In February, the Jerusalem Post surveyed a range of experts, none of who believed Bottlegate could possibly carry criminal charges, and it does seem further down on the radar now, though it was the first affair that broke into the news.

Furniture Gate refers to accusations of purchasing furniture with state funds for the prime minister’s private residence in Caesarea. According to the allegations, the furniture was nominally purchased for the official public residence, but then Sara moved the new furniture to the couple’s private Caesarea residence, while replacing it at the public residence with older furniture. Electrician Gate refers to the prime minister’s residence using an outside contractor for electrical problems in order to get around budget limits on the state budget covering his residence’s electricity costs.

The report goes so far as to say that hiring the private contractor, Avi Fahima, involved “misleading representations.”

Fahima had been disqualified from working on the Netanyahus’ electrical systems on the state’s dime because of his prior relationship with them, yet he ended up performing the work under the guise of working for a different contractor.

Reports about Sara’s alleged use of state funds for her father’s medical care have only recently been raised, so less is known about those allegations.

Sara is expected to claim that she used private funds for any issue where use of public funds would be controversial and that while she was involved in managing Fahima prior to her husband’s reelection as prime minister, that she was not involved in managing him post-reelection.

In the February State Comptroller report, Joseph Shapira said that electricity use was so high at the prime minister’s residence, that over a certain three-month period, it cost 70 percent of the electricity budget for the year.

Next, the report said that the outside electrician was called for service nearly every weekend over a multi-month period, including on Yom Kippur.

Shapira said that since Sara Netanyahu or her staff had ordered the electrician to come directly, there was less paperwork on which to determine if the issues could have waited until the work week for regular staff to fix them, saving state funds.

The investigation is a spin-off of a civil lawsuit by former House Manage of the Prime Minister’s residence Meni Naftali and started to move forward following the special and dramatic State Comptroller report in February, shortly before March 17 elections.

In the report, Shapira said that the Netanyahu family’s use of funds raised criminal suspicions and was certainly an ethical violation.

When the report came out, there were fears in the Netanyahu camp that it could negatively impact his electoral support, but ultimately he won a resounding victory and a fourth term in office.

Last week, Sara Netanyahu’s lawyer Jacob Weinroth told various media outlets that Weinstein had refused to meet with him to hear his arguments about whether or not the Attorney General should open an investigation against his client. Weinstein responded that he was happy to receive written arguments but that he had no need for an in-person meeting with the attorney.

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