Cigar shop owners, private chefs testify at Netanyahu corruption trial
Store owner says billionaire benefactors spent NIS 100,000 per year on cigars, allegedly destined for the former PM
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial for corruption continued Tuesday with testimony from employees of businesses that provided luxury items allegedly purchased on behalf of the former prime minister and his wife while he was in office.
The so-called Case 1000 revolves around accusations that Netanyahu, who is set to return to power, received expensive gifts from businessmen in exchange for benefits he provided to them.
Tuesday was to see testimony at Jerusalem District Court from several workers in restaurants and a cigar shop with prosecutors aiming to show that the Netanyahus received goods from those establishments paid for by their billionaire benefactors, Hollywood movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian businessman James Packer.
First set to take the stand was Einav Segal, a worker at the Cabinet store in Herzliya where hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of cigars were purchased, with prosecutors alleging a significant part was for Netanyahu.
On Monday, Cabinet owner Yaakov Gershoni testified that Hadas Klein, a personal assistant to Milchan and Packer, had bought cigars in 2012 and 2013 and that the unusually large purchases amounted to some NIS 100,000 ($28,000) a year, some seven percent of the store’s annual revenue.
He also recalled once asking Klein if the cigars were for one of his customers, and she said no, but he did not press for more details.
Specific cigars purchased included the Cohiba Siglo VI, which costs around NIS 300-NIS 350 apiece, he said.
Defense attorneys accused Gershoni of coordinating his testimony on the cost of cigars with Klein as his prices did not match receipts held by the defense, yet he adamantly denied the suggestion.
“There was no coordinating of testimonies,” he said and insisted he hadn’t spoken with Klein. He explained the discrepancies as due to being better able to remember prices when allowed time to think after having been questioned by police about the matter.
On Monday, Limor Dicovsky, a chef for Milchan and Packer, told the court that the Netanyahus, who lived nearby, ate at Milchan’s home in Caesarea “on demand” whenever he was in the country.
She described the meals as lasting long hours and that cigars and champagne were always served.
“We were prepared for that,” she said.
Dicovsky also confirmed her estimate to police that the Netanyahus also ate 10-15 times at Packer’s home, though she described those occasions as less formal than at Milchan’s residence and that she was told make the guests “whatever they want.”
Fulfilling those requests required her to have extra supplies on hand as each of the Netanyahus would ask for different foods.
The two billionaires would pay for all meals, Dicovsky noted.
On a few occasions when Milchan was a guest at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, she would cook there too, she said.
Dicovsky said she spoke several times by phone with Sara Netanyahu but never with her husband, who was prime minister at the time. She also recalled seeing Packer and Milchan’s personal assistant Klein and their driver Yonatan Hasson taking crates of champagne out to a car, but did not see if they were given to Netanyahu. In addition to expensive cigars, prosecutors say that large volumes of expensive champagne were given to the Netanyahus.
Dicovsky confirmed she had also cooked a meal when Prime Minister Yair Lapid visited Milchan at home, and also on two or three occasions when former president Shimon Peres visited Milchan.
Klein, a key witness in the case, wrapped up her testimony in September. Milchan was supposed to testify during the recent proceedings but his appearance, apparently via video, has been delayed due to a medical procedure he underwent.
The case is one of three in the former premier’s trial.
Along with Case 1000, Netanyahu faces fraud and breach of trust charges in two other cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He has denied wrongdoing in all the cases.
Having led his bloc of right-wing and religious parties to victory in elections last week, Netanyahu is hoping to form a coalition and return to office.