An Israeli-born Hollywood billionaire at the center of a corruption investigation involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly denied bribing the premier and said the gifts he gave to Netanyahu and his wife Sara were not in exchange for the advancement of his business interests.
Questioned under caution by Israeli police investigators in London last week, Arnon Milchan said there was no basis for the bribery allegations against him and that the hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of cigars and champagne he reportedly gave to the Netanyahus stemmed from his years-long friendship with the family, Channel 2 reported Wednesday.
The Channel 2 story followed reports in Hebrew media on Tuesday that the interrogation of Milchan, which took place over a number of sessions last week in London, marked the first time the billionaire was questioned as a suspect in the criminal investigation known as Case 1000.
In the case, Netanyahu and his wife Sara are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably cigars and champagne from Milchan.
During the questioning, Milchan denied Netanyahu intervened on his behalf with former US secretary of state John Kerry to successfully obtain a 10-year US residency visa for him, saying he turned to many people to help and had only asked Netanyahu to clarify the status of his visa request, according to Wednesday’s report.
Milchan also reportedly denied wrongdoing concerning the sale of a controlling bloc of shares in Channel 10, of which he is a part owner. Milchan noted that others, who are not suspects, had sold an even larger amount of shares at the same price.
Police are said to be investigating whether the prime minister intervened in the sale of the Channel 10 shares, in particular whether Netanyahu helped orchestrate the sale to RGE Group, a media company owned in part by British-American billionaire Leonard Blavatnik, in order to benefit Milchan financially.
Channel 2 reported last week that police investigators were set to question Blavatnik in a separate criminal investigation involving Netanyahu known as Case 2000.
Police said they were pleased with Milchan’s “excellent” testimony, as it furthered the suspicions against Netanyahu, unnamed legal officials were quoted by Channel 2 as saying. They also said police were not expected to charge Milchan in the case.
On Tuesday, a source close to Netanyahu was quoted by the Ynet news website denying the allegations.
“Any attempt to attach a tinge of inappropriateness to the deep and long-standing friendship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Arnon Milchan is baseless and doomed to fail,” the source said.
Milchan previously reportedly confirmed to police in previous testimony that he gave gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels to Netanyahu and his wife Sara over many years, but said he never expected anything in return. He is said to have later “dramatically” changed his story, altering the total amount that he spent on the gifts for the Netanyahus and the assertion that the prime minister was aware of the costs.
In addition to Case 1000, Milchan has also been linked to Case 2000, which 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 return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
According to reports, Netanyahu and Milchan allegedly sought to mediate between Mozes and a number of individuals to facilitate the sale of the Hebrew daily, including Blavatnik, Australian billionaire James Packer, Oracle chief Larry Ellison, and Mattias Dopfner, the CEO of Germany’s Axel Springer publishing group.
Mozes is then believed to have met with several of those potential buyers, according to a Channel 2 report in January.
Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing, has increasingly lashed out at the media of late amid developments in the cases, accusing the press of playing up the investigations against him in order to end his premiership and devoting an inordinate amount of attention to weekly protests near Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva calling for the prime minister to be indicted.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.