Israeli-born Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan gifted jewelry worth up to $2,500 (NIS 8,700) to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara, Hadashot news reported on Wednesday, quoting a source close to the police investigation.
According to the television report, Milchan told police that Sara Netanyahu demanded the gift for her birthday.
Milchan said he was uncomfortable giving the jewelry because he worried it could cross legal and ethical boundaries. But the Netanyahus insisted, and he was eventually reassured by the prime minister that it was legally permissible, according to the report.
The source also said Milchan told police he gave Netanyahu cigars to be able to stay in an influential position regarding issues affecting Israel, and gave champagne to Sara to keep her “calm” and give the prime minister “some quiet.”
Hebrew media have reported that police are planning on recommending that Netanyahu stand trial in two criminal cases currently open against him, over suspicions he received illegal gifts and favors from businessmen while advancing their interests, possibly within the next few weeks.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from Milchan.
In November, Milchan’s assistant reportedly testified that the prime minister explicitly requested expensive cigars, appearing to contradict the premier’s defense that they were just “gifts” between friends.
“There were times Netanyahu asked personally [for the cigars],” Hadashot news quoted Milchan’s assistant Hadas Klein as telling police investigators.
Netanyahu would call her directly, she said, according to the TV report. “He’d call them ‘leaves.’ Milchan didn’t smoke, but I notified the guy who works with him that he was paying for it.”
The report also quoted from Milchan’s testimony to police, saying, “These weren’t quite gifts. It was a demand. You don’t demand gifts. It disgusted me.”
In portions of her testimony published earlier in November by Hadashot, Klein told police that Sara Netanyahu would call her up regularly to ask for cigars and champagne,
“There were code words for champagne and cigars,” she was quoted as saying. “It went on for years. There was an understanding that Arnon had to supply the Netanyahu couple with whatever they wanted. The cigars were requested by [Benjamin] Netanyahu.”
While leaked reports of the police investigation have indicated that Milchan spent some NIS 400,000-600,000 ($115,000-172,000) on champagne and cigars for the Netanyahus over the better part of a decade, the prime minister and his wife have reportedly told police that the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were unremarkable, since the Milchans were their best friends.
As for claims that Milchan kept Netanyahu supplied with expensive cigars on an ongoing basis for the better part of a decade — the lion’s share of the hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of allegedly illicit benefits — the Netanyahus reportedly told police he was merely a “social smoker” and that whenever his friend Milchan came to see him, he would bring just three to six cigars, worth about $10 each.
The second case, Case 2000, involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in exchange for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Netanyahu, who has denied wrongdoing in both cases, last week played down the significance of the looming police recommendation he stand trial.
“If there will be recommendations [to indict] — so what?” Netanyahu told a rally of Likud members. “Here’s a fact I doubt the public knows: the vast majority of police recommendations end with nothing. More than 60 percent of police recommendations are thrown out.”