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Netanyahu’s wife convicted of fraud

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara pose for photographers after a memorial ceremony for late mayor of Ariel, Ron Nachman, in the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the occupied West Bank February 2, 2017. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

JERUSALEM (AFP) – An Israeli court Sunday convicted the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of fraudulently using state funds for meals, under a plea bargain which dropped more severe charges.

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

In a deal approved by judge Avital Chen at Jerusalem magistrates’ court, Sara Netanyahu was found guilty of using the errors of government accounting staff to bypass spending restrictions.

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

Although her husband is a millionaire she asked for payment to be deferred and the judge allowed her to pay in monthly instalments.

“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 paying $100,000 (85,000 euros) for meals from well-known Jerusalem businesses.

She had done so while falsely declaring there was no cook available at the premier’s official residence.

The amended indictment, approved Sunday, dropped the graft charges, replacing them with “obtaining a benefit by deliberately exploiting the mistake of another person”.

“Despite the fact that cooks were employed at the residence the accused instructed staff at the residence, as a matter of normal practice, to order prepared meals from restaurants for herself, her family and visitors.”

Husband Benjamin Netanyahu dubbed the case “surrealist” in a video posted online.

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