Opposition leader Yair Lapid on Tuesday testified for the second consecutive day in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, sparring with the defense over his ties to a Hollywood billionaire who allegedly plied the premier with pricey gifts in exchange for having his interests advanced.
Lapid was called as a witness to speak about his time as finance minister in 2013-2014, when he was approached by both Netanyahu and billionaire Arnon Milchan about the idea of extending the duration of the tax break given to returning Israelis who have lived abroad, from 10 years to 20.
During Monday’s session, attorney Amit Hadad sought to portray Lapid and Milchan as close friends while attempting to dent the Yesh Atid leader’s credibility as a witness.
During Tuesday’s cross-examination, Hadad asked Lapid why he did not list Milchan on a conflict-of-interest form.
Lapid worked briefly for Milchan about 30 years ago and has said they spent some time together but were not close. The two are also linked through Milchan’s daughter Elinor, who is a founding member of Yesh Atid.
“I have a lot of friends. He isn’t one of my five best friends, let alone 10 or 15,” Lapid said.
Further pressed on the matter, Lapid acknowledged it “seemed improbable” Milchan was not included but stressed he has been transparent about their ties and therefore had nothing to hide.
“But I had no reason to say there was a conflict of interest with Milchan because I didn’t receive anything from him,” he said.
Parts of the hearing took on a political tone, with Hadad asking Lapid about his relationship with Netanyahu and whether it was defined by “abhorrence.” The prime minister was not in the courtroom Tuesday, and has skipped most hearings.
“Definitely not abhorrence. A lack of trust — yes,” Lapid said.
Hadad also cited surveys indicating Yesh Atid has benefited electorally from Netanyahu’s legal woes.
“You’re presenting this as if this affair brings me joy. This is a sad day for the State of Israel and a sad situation for me,” Lapid responded.
The Yesh Atid chief also reiterated that he had told Milchan “no” on the tax break while taking a shot at Netanyahu: “Milchan spoke with me and he knows I don’t owe him anything because I never took gifts from him worth hundreds of thousands of shekels,” he said.
As the court session ended, Lapid told the judges, “I don’t envy your position.”
Tuesday was the second and final day of Lapid’s testimony in Case 1000, in which Netanyahu is accused of receiving lavish gifts — including cigars, champagne and jewelry — from Milchan in exchange for attempting to grant him more of a tax break as well assist him with his US visa.
Netanyahu, who was indicted for fraud and breach of trust, was also hit with those charges in two other cases, along with bribery in one of them. He denies wrongdoing and has claimed the charges are part of an effort by prosecutors, police, political rivals and the media to oust him from office.
Milchan himself is expected to testify via video link from the Israeli Embassy in London starting next week. The court has ruled that Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, can be present in London during Milchan’s testimony.
Hadad told the judges on Monday that the prime minister plans to watch the testimony from the Jerusalem District Court. Milchan himself has not been charged in the case.
Netanyahu’s trial began three years ago, and according to the current schedule is slated to last for another five years, although various reports have said that the extensive witness list could be trimmed, potentially shortening the trial by a couple of years.