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Sara Netanyahu quizzed by fraud squad over misuse of funds

Wife of Israeli PM questioned for two hours, amid mounting scandal over corruption allegations against her husband
Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu have been hit by multiple allegations of corruption (AFP)

The wife of Israel's prime minister has been interrogated by police for a fourth time, under suspicion that she used public funds to pay for housekeeping costs. 

The questioning comes amid mounting tumult in Benjamin Netanyahu's own corruption scandal and news that his former chief of staff, Ari Harow, may give evidence against him.

Local media reported that Sara Netanyahu was questioned for two hours by the national fraud squad on Wednesday, in what is expected to be a final interrogation before a decision by the special prosecutor.

She has been under investigation for two years over claims she spent public money on expenses for the Netanyahus' home, including private chefs, catering and electrical work. 

The Haaretz newspaper said it was expected that a final opinion will recommend Mrs Netanyahu's indictment. It noted she was held for 11 hours when last questioned in December 2016, when she was called in under caution as a criminal suspect.

The issued no statement on Mrs Netanyahu's questioning.

On the house?

Netanyahu himself has been subject to accusations of improper household spending, including when a 2016 foreign ministry report detailed tens of thousands of dollars on expenses for make-up, takeaway meals and $386,922 on flights.

But this week it was deepening corruption allegations against the prime minister that grabbed the front pages of Israeli media - including Israel Hayom, a free paper supportive of Netanyahu.

Newspapers splashed reports that justice officials were edging closer to a deal with Netanyahu's former chief of staff, Ari Harow, in which he would give evidence against his former boss in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Harow has been under investigation for more than two years on suspicion of bribery, breach of trust, conflict of interest and fraud, and has been providing authorities with information on two investigations into Netanyahu, according to Haaretz.

One investigation is based on suspicions that Netanyahu unlawfully received gifts from wealthy supporters, including Australian billionaire James Packer and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Alleged newspaper deals

Also being probed is a suspicion that Netanyahu sought a secret deal with the publisher of national newspaper Yediot Aharonot.

The agreement allegedly proposed that the prime minister help scale down the circulation of Israel Hayom in exchange for more favourable coverage from Yediot Aharonot.

The scandal was based on an alleged recording of Netanyahu in secret talks with Noni Mozes, the owner of Yediot Aharonot. 

The justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, told news site Ynet on Wednesday that Netanyahu was not legally obliged to quit if indicted, and said there were currently no charges against the prime minister.

"The ones to take that decision are the attorney general and the state prosecutor," she said. "For now, let the prime minister get on with his job."

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