Former US ambassador Dan Shapiro said set to testify in Netanyahu graft case
PM reportedly asked envoy to intervene to help secure visa for Israeli film producer Arnon Milchan, who allegedly gave Netanyahu gifts valued at hundreds of thousands of shekels
Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.
Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro will reportedly give testimony to Israeli police in the coming weeks as part of an ongoing investigation into suspicions Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received bribes from an Israeli-born Hollywood mogul in exchange for advancing his interests.
Netanyahu is said to have asked Shapiro and then-US secretary of state John Kerry in 2014 to intervene and arrange a long-term US visa for Israeli film producer Arnon Milchan, who allegedly provided Netanyahu and his wife with expensive gifts including cigars and champagne valued at hundreds of thousands of shekels.
In February, it was reported that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had rejected a police request to question Kerry and Shapiro, saying that there was “no real need at the current time.”
But Channel 10 news reported Sunday that police have now received permission to question Shapiro, who finished his term as ambassador in January but continues to live in Israel, and will do so following the current period of Jewish festivals, which end in mid-October.
Shapiro declined to comment on the report or whether he had been involved in any visa request involving Milchan.
Netanyahu and Milchan deny that the gifts involved any exchange of favors and have argued they were merely gestures of friendship. Both are said to have confirmed to police that Milchan asked Netanyahu to help him renew his US visa, but they deny the prime minister ever actually intervened.
Born in Israel, the LA-based Hollywood producer Milchan, 72, never became a US citizen, but used to enjoy 10-year visas to live there. However, in 2013, he gave an interview to Israel’s Channel 2 in which he acknowledged that he had worked in the past for the Israeli intelligence community. In the wake of his disclosures, according to Channel 2, Milchan — behind such movie hits as “Fight Club,” “Pretty Woman,” “LA Confidential,” “12 Years a Slave” and “The Big Short” — was no longer afforded 10-year US visas, and instead was required to apply for an annual extension.
Acting on Milchan’s behalf, Netanyahu asked Kerry three times in 2014 to intervene and restoration of a 10-year US visa for Milchan was subsequently secured, Channel 10 said.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office was not immediately available to confirm the report, or to comment on whether Mandelblit had also given permission to question Kerry.
The investigation, dubbed Case 1000, into whether there has been an illegal conflict of interest in Netanyahu accepting gifts from businessmen, and taking actions on their behalf, that may have even constituted bribery, is one of a series of ongoing corruption investigations against Netanyahu.
Police are checking whether the Netanyahus received some NIS 400,000-600,000 ($100,000-150,000) in gifts of cigars and fine wines from Milchan. The couple have reportedly insisted that the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were unremarkable seeing that the Milchans are their close friends. Other businessmen are also alleged to have provided the Netanyahus with gifts.
Last week it was also reported that Netanyahu aided Milchan in his attempt to secure a major interest in Channel 2 television in late 2015. The prime minister was even said to have been present at a number of meetings on the subject.
The Israeli daily Haaretz said a number of meetings with various figures took place, all of them with the participation of Netanyahu, Milchan, Milchan’s Israeli business adviser Ze’ev Feldman, and Shlomo Filber, the director general of the Communications Ministry and a Netanyahu loyalist. One allegedly even took place at Milchan’s Israel home.
Filber himself is under investigation over securities offenses related to a merger involving the national telephone company Bezeq, which is owned by another Netanyahu associate, Shaul Elovitch.
Milchan needed Netanyahu and Filber because a merger of franchises would require regulatory changes, according to a source quoted by Haaretz.
The prime minister is also a suspect in a second case over control over Israeli media interests. Case 2000 involves alleged negotiations with the publisher of the Yedioth Aharonoth daily, Arnon Mozes, and focuses on the prime minister’s supposed promise to advance legislation to hobble the Sheldon Adelson-controlled Israel Hayom paper in exchange for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.