Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara appeared in court Sunday for the first hearing in the fraud trial against her, in which she is alleged to have misused state funds in ordering catered meals.
According to the indictment, Sara Netanyahu, along with a government employee, fraudulently obtained from the state more than US$100,000 for hundreds of meals supplied by restaurants, bypassing regulations that prohibit the practice if a cook is employed at home.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.
She was charged in June with fraud and breach of trust as well as aggravated fraudulent receipt of goods. If convicted, Sara Netanyahu could face up to five years in prison.
The session, however, dealt mainly with procedural matters. The judge set a Nov. 13 meeting with the prosecutors and the defendants' lawyers in which he said he hoped all sides could narrow their differences or "even resolve the case."
But a settlement at this stage appears remote because the prosecutors would likely demand Netanyahu to plead guilty, something her lawyer has ruled out. She was not asked at the hearing to enter a plea.
Netanyahu’s lawyers contend the indictment does not hold up because the regulations for ordering meals were legally invalid and a household employee had requisitioned the food despite Netanyahu's protestations.
Sara Netanyahu, 59, has inspired a multitude of headlines in the past over what family spokesmen call an undeserved reputation for imperiousness.
In 2017 the Netanyahus won a libel suit against an Israeli journalist who said Sara once kicked her husband out of their car during an argument. In 2016, a Jerusalem labor court ruled that she had insulted and raged at household staff in the prime minister’s official residence.
So far, Sara's present legal woes have not politically damaged her husband, now in his fourth term as Israel’s leader and riding high in opinion polls despite the allegations against him.
Accusations he has made against the Israeli media of orchestrating a politically motivated witch hunt against him and his wife appear to have struck a chord with his right-wing voter base, which has rallied in support of the 68-year-old leader.