Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, a key figure in fraud allegations against Benjamin Netanyahu, said Monday that he didn’t realize the gifts he gave the prime minister and his wife would result in a criminal investigation.
“I did not think it was a terrible thing to give presents to a friend,” Milchan told Channel 13 news.
“I was worried for two and a half years,” he said. “You go to sleep with it at night, get up in the morning with it, go on working and hide your fears of injustice, but looking back, maybe I should have consulted with someone.”
Last week, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his decision to charge Netanyahu with criminal wrongdoing in three separate cases against him, including bribery in the far-reaching Bezeq corruption probe, pending a hearing.
In Case 1000, the case in which Milchan was involved, the allegations indicate a long-term and wide-ranging illicit relationship between the prime minister and the Hollywood producer. At the Netanyahus’ request, Milchan provided “a supply line” of “boxes of cigars” and “crates of champagne” for years to Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, Mandelblit alleged.
In 2016, Milchan also provided jewelry to Sara Netanyahu, at her request and with the prime minister’s knowledge. Along with cigars and champagne supplied in a similar fashion by Australian businessman James Packer, the value of these consignments allegedly totaled some $200,000.
In return, among other matters including helping Milchan with his US visa, the prime minister allegedly sought, on Milchan’s behalf, to widen the provisions of a controversial tax exemption law that remains on the books despite Israeli tax authorities’ concern that it facilitates money laundering.
The law grants an income tax exemption and tax reporting exemption on income earned abroad by new immigrants and returning residents for a period of 10 years; Milchan had benefited financially from its provisions as a returning resident, and sought to have those provisions extended for a further 10 years, and Netanyahu allegedly tried to arrange this.
The prime minister also allegedly acted to advance Milchan’s economic interests stemming from his part ownership of Israel’s (since renamed) Channel 10 TV station, and his interest in the (since renamed) Channel 2 TV station, and utilized Milchan’s connections when trying to arrange other allegedly illicit media deals. In this case, Netanyahu is to be charged with fraud and breach of trust. The case against Milchan has been closed.
“As someone who was a friend of Netanyahu for many years, I would like to look at the scar I received,” Milchan said, when asked about his relationship with the prime minister. “If I would be allowed to meet with him and talk for a few minutes, I’d be able to understand how I feel and what actually happened.
“It pains me that we’re in this state,” Milchan added. “It hurts that when traveling abroad, the main subject is not science and achievements, but corruption.”
Netanyahu will also be charged with fraud and breach of trust in Case 2000, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000, unless he can persuade Mandelblit to reconsider in the course of the hearing process.
The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing in all three cases, and has alleged that the investigations against him are a “witch hunt” involving the left, the media and the police, relentlessly pressuring a “weak” attorney general who shares their agenda.