JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's attorney general took a step Friday toward indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife for corruption in a scandal that deepened the mounting legal problems of Israel's first family.
Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit announced he is considering charging Sara Netanyahu with graft, fraud and breach of trust for alleged overspending of over $100,000 in public funds on private meals at the prime minister's official residence.
Friday's announcement is the procedural first step ahead of leveling formal charges against Sara Netanyahu.
The Justice Ministry said in a statement that she will have the opportunity to plead her case at a hearing before any charges are filed.
Investigations that Netanyahu improperly hired a political supporter as an electrician, used government money to buy furniture for their private beach house, and used state funds to pay for her late father's medical care were dropped for lack of evidence, the attorney general's office said.
A similar notice was issued to Ezra Saidoff, a former official at Netanyahu's official residence, for suspected involvement in the case.
The Netanyahus dismissed accusations of wrongdoing against Sara Netanyahu as "absurd" in a Facebook post on the prime minister's official page on Thursday. The prime minister doubled down on the denial in another post Friday, saying the accusations "will evaporate in the hearing" like other suspicions against the prime minister's wife.
An indictment of Sara Netanyahu would not pose a direct threat to Netanyahu. But it is an embarrassing blow to the prime minister, who is facing a series of criminal investigations into his personal and financial dealings.
Emanuel Gross, a legal expert at Haifa University, said Mandelblit's announcement is a standard legal procedure that is "very preliminary," and won't absolutely result in an indictment.
"We cannot be sure what will happen after the hearing," he said. "We have to wait and see."
The potential indictment threatens to reinforce the unflattering reputation the Netanyahus have gained for enjoying an expensive lifestyle out of touch with common Israelis. The Netanyahus have repeatedly charged that they are victims of a political witch hunt and hostile media.