Billionaire Israeli film producer Arnon Milchan reportedly told Israeli police that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife demanded the champagne and cigars that he has allegedly been supplying them, and that these were not merely gifts he gave out of generosity and friendship, the Haaretz newspaper reported Friday.
The prime minister last week dismissed reports over the value of the presents he allegedly received and said that he and his wife Sara have also given Milchan and his wife gifts in return, as is customary among friends.
According to Haaretz, Milchan’s testimony may be a turning point in the case. The paper said the Netanyahus used the code words “pinks” and “leaves” to demand more champagne and cigars, and these items were then purchased through people working for Milchan and delivered to the prime minister and his wife by Milchan’s chauffeurs.
Haaretz said the use of code words points to the fact that they were inherently aware of the fact that the gifts were problematic.
The paper said Milchan never displayed spontaneous generosity, only buying the gifts when the prime minister and his wife asked for them. An unnamed person, said to be close to the movie producer, said he was not buying the gifts for any specific favor in return, but only because he enjoyed feeling close to the seat of power.
Milchan, who is reportedly worth some $5.8 billion, “has already made his fortune,” the source said. The movie producer has made no public statements since the affair became known. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.
While leaked reports of the police investigation have indicated that Milchan spent some 400,000-600,000 shekels ($100,000-150,000) on champagne and cigars for the Netanyahus over the best part of a decade, the prime minister and his wife have reportedly told police that the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were unremarkable since the Milchans are their best friends.
Last week Channel 2 showed receipts from a store in Herzliya where Milchan was said to have bought champagne for Sara Netanyahu totaling 57,000 shekels. Citing what it said was testimony from the prime minister and his wife, the same TV station said that the Netanyahus claim they received purchases worth “maybe a third” of that sum.
As for claims that Milchan kept Netanyahu supplied with expensive cigars on a continuous basis for most of a decade — the lion’s share of the hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of allegedly illicit benefits — the Netanyahus, in their testimony, dismissed these reports. Netanyahu told police he was merely a “social smoker” and that whenever his friend Arnon Milchan came to see him, he would bring just three to six cigars, worth about $10 each.
These and other gifts from the Milchans were presents from their “best friends,” the TV report quoted the Netanyahus telling police. The prime minister and Sara Netanyahu, who testified last week, are also said to have told police that they gave the Milchans gifts, including a necklace for Milchan’s wife.
The families meet up “all the time,” the Netanyahus were said to have told the police, and they have the photos to prove it.
As for gifts from a second businessman named in the case, James Packer, those were of even more negligible value, the Netanyahus reportedly told police.
All this, they said, explains why the various presents were not reported to the authorities.
The cigars-and-champagne investigation, known as Case 1000, reportedly revolves around gifts the Netanyahus received from Milchan, Packer and possibly other businessmen.
Netanyahu asked US Secretary of State John Kerry three times in 2014 to arrange a long-term visa for Milchan, an Israeli citizen, to live in the United States. The visa was granted.
The Netanyahus’ son Yair testified this week to the police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit, mostly over his connections with Packer.
Benjamin Netanyahu has been questioned under caution by police over the case as well as over a second affair, Case 2000, into an alleged quid pro quo deal he hatched with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes.
The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyer has insisted Netanyahu has done nothing illegal.