At Netanyahu trial, defense asserts assistance to billionaire Milchan was legitimate

Former PM’s lawyer argues mogul acted to advance Israel’s interests around world and therefore deserved help; prosecutors appeal decision to drop some charges against Elovitch

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Hadas Klein during a court hearing in the trial against former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Jerusalem District Court, July 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Hadas Klein during a court hearing in the trial against former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Jerusalem District Court, July 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The corruption trial of opposition leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu resumed on Tuesday following a six-week court recess for the summer.

The trial picked up where it left off, with the continued cross-examination of key prosecution witness Hadas Klein — personal assistant to businessman, Hollywood producer and billionaire Arnon Milchan — by Netanyahu’s defense attorney Amit Hadad.

Klein faced questions regarding Milchan’s activities in the international arena as well as requests for help he allegedly made to Netanyahu.

The indictment against the former prime minister charges that Netanyahu violated conflict of interest laws when he provided Milchan with assistance in renewing his long-term US residency visa. It alleges that this — alongside Milchan’s supply of an estimated NIS 700,000 ($205,000) worth of cigars, champagne, jewelry and other luxury to Netanyahu and his wife Sara — constitute fraud and breach of trust.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Hadad sought to paint a picture of Milchan as someone who acted on the international stage to advance Israel’s interests and who was therefore entitled to assistance from the prime minister to renew his visa.

Arnon Milchan (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in the Knesset, on March 28, 2005. (Flash90/File)

“The indictment paints Milchan as a greedy businessman, I want to tell the full story,” said Hadad, and obtained Klein’s agreement that her boss “loves the state of Israel, is a Zionist in his heart and soul, and is interested in what is good for Israel and its security.”

Klein replied that Milchan “is an Israeli patriot, but he also has businesses. I salute him for his love of the country but he is a businessman.”

In a 2013 interview with the Hebrew media, Milchan acknowledged that he had worked for the Israel Bureau of Scientific Relations, which worked to secure scientific and technical know-how for secret defense programs.

That interview led US authorities to grant him merely a one-year visa extension instead of the 10-year visas he had previously received. Milchan sought Netanyahu’s help in obtaining a new 10-year visa, and the former prime minister arranged for the Hollywood mogul to speak directly to then-US secretary of state John Kerry on the issue.

The court hearing became heated at one stage when Klein disclosed that she is in contact with Milchan about the trial, clarifying that she uses the WhatsApp messaging service to send Milchan articles and social media comments about the trial and allegations made against the two of them by Netanyahu supporters.

Hadad immediately pointed out that she is forbidden from discussing the trial with Milchan since they are both witnesses.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense attorney Amit Hadad at the Jerusalem District Court during a hearing in the corruption trial against the former premier, September 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I am undergoing a lot of pain [due to the trial], I am his [Milchan’s] personal assistant, I have really suffered over the last six years, especially with all the terrible things that have been written about me,” Klein answered, referring to claims she had an affair with Milchan.

“I have a family and children and [Milchan] needs to know about all this because I’m in the firing line because of [Netanyahu] — that I am besmirched,” Klein said, on the verge of tears.

In a related issue, the State Attorney’s Office on Tuesday appealed a decision by the Tel Aviv District Court to drop some of the major charges against Netanyahu’s co-defendant in the trial Shaul Elovitch.

According to the original indictment, former Bezeq director Linor Yochelman provided Bezeq vice-chairman and senior Elovitch aide Amikam Shorer as well as Elovitch himself and his wife with information, protocols and updates from an independent committee dealing with a potential merger of Bezeq with the YES satellite TV provider.

The prosecution charged that this was secret information and was not supposed to be seen by Elovitch and his senior executives.

Judge Michal Agmon-Gonen ruled in July that this did not actually constitute a crime and that there was no obligation of secrecy regarding the independent committee’s deliberations.

The State Attorney’s Office said Tuesday that the court’s position was a mistake and that secrecy requirements were a critical aspect of the committee’s functioning.

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