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Israeli PM's wife on trial for 'fraudulent' use of state funds

Sara Netanyahu on trial for fraud over allegations she misused state funds to pay for catered meals costing $100,000.

The wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone on trial for allegedly using state funds to fraudulently pay for hundreds of meals, part of a list of legal troubles facing the family.

The trial for Sara Netanyahu, that started on Sunday, will be the latest chapter in a saga intensely scrutinised in Israel but dismissed by the Netanyahus as another "absurd" attempt to discredit them.

The premier himself faces possible charges in separate corruption investigations, leading to speculation that he will eventually be forced to step down.

Sara was charged with fraud and breach of trust in June. Prosecutors accuse her of misusing state funds to pay for catered meals costing $100,000 by falsely declaring there were no cooks available at the premier's official residence.

From 2010 to 2013, she, her family and guests received "fraudulently from the state hundreds of prepared meals", the indictment read.

According to the charge sheet, the meals were ordered from a variety of well-known Jerusalem businesses, including an Italian restaurant, a Middle Eastern grill joint and a sushi establishment.

The trial, which could run for months, will be overseen by a panel of three judges due to the "public sensitivity" of the case.

It was originally scheduled to start in July but was postponed for reasons that were not made public.

Sara Netanyahu, aged 59 and a high-profile presence at her husband's side throughout his long tenure, has denied any wrongdoing.

Sara has previously been accused of pocketing cash from deposit refunds for empty bottles returned from the official residence.

She has also faced accusations of mistreating staff, and in 2016 a court awarded some $47,000 in damages to a former housekeeper who accused the couple of repeated workplace abuse.

All the allegations have been closely covered in the Israeli media. The Netanyahus have hit back, calling them grossly unfair smear attempts.

The prime minister faces a possible indictment in the months ahead. On Friday, police quizzed him for a 12th time as a suspect in various cases. Allegations against him include allegedly seeking a secret deal with the publisher of Israel's top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot to ensure positive coverage in return for pushing forward a law that would have limited the circulation of a rival.

Another case involves suspicions that the prime minister and his family received luxury gifts from wealthy individuals in exchange for financial or personal favours.

There is also an ongoing inquiry into the prime minister's ties with local telecoms giant Bezeq and its largest shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, according to Israeli media.


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