Hollywood mogul Milchan, Yedioth publisher Mozes deny bribery allegations

Both suspects say claims are bunk after police recommend indicting pair for schemes to exchange favors with Netanyahu

Arnon Milchan, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu attend a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 28, 2005. (Flash90/File)
Arnon Milchan, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu attend a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 28, 2005. (Flash90/File)

Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes on Tuesday denied allegations they sought to bribe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after police recommended both stand trial.

The police recommendations published Tuesday cap lengthy investigations into suspicions against Netanyahu in two main cases, known as cases 1000 and 2000. The decision to indict now rests with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Both Milchan and Mozes denied the allegations and said there was no reason for indictments.

According to police, Milchan, an Israel-born movie producer who lives in the United States, gave the prime minister and his wife cigars, champagne, and jewelry worth some NIS 750,000 ($212,000) from 2007 to 2016, in exchange for help on a number of measures that would aid the mogul’s business interests.

A statement from police said investigators had gathered enough evidence to charge Milchan with bribe-giving.

“The results of the investigation show that the relationship between the prime minister and Mr. Milchan was a relationship of bribery reaching criminal levels, and not an innocent relationship between friends,” the police commendation reads, rebuffing Netanyahu’s defense that the items had been friendly gifts.

Among the measures benefiting Milchan, Netanyahu is suspected of trying to extend a 2008 tax exemption and tax reporting exemption on income from abroad to new immigrants and returning residents, known as the “Milchan Law.” Milchan would allegedly have saved millions from the measure had it not been thwarted by the Treasury.

Netanyahu is also accused of using his connections to try to arrange a renewed US visa for Milchan, whose main business is in Hollywood.

In addition, Milchan and Netanyahu promoted a free trade zone near the Jordan-Israel border that personally benefited Milchan, a trade holder, and pushed for a deal to merge Israeli media outlets, one partly owned by Milchan, according to police.

Netanyahu is suspected of receiving gifts worth another NIS 250,000 ($70,000) from Australian businessman James Packer, at Milchan’s request, though police did not call for bribery charges against him.

Milchan’s lawyer said the police recommendation “ignored basic facts,” including that Netanyahu and Milchan have been friends since the 2000s, when Netanyahu was not in government.

“Their connection has been characterized by friendliness. In this context, gifts were given to the Netanyahu family from time to time, without any business interest. We are sure that a serious look at the full material will lead to one necessary conclusion: there is no basis for a bribery charge,” the attorney said.

Mozes, publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, also faces possible charges for offering alleged bribes.

Police say Mozes and Netanyahu negotiated a deal by which the daily would provide favorably coverage of the prime minister in exchange for support for a legislative effort to clamp down on rival tabloid Israel Hayom.

Publisher and owner of Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper Arnon “Noni” Mozes arrives for questioning in the so-called ‘Case 2000’ police investigation, at the Lahav 433 investigation unit, in Lod, January 17, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

From 2009 “Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes held conversations and personal meetings during which they discussed helping each other as a quid pro quo to advance their respective interests,” said police.

Furthermore, the investigation revealed “that the sides took actual active steps in advancing each others interests in continuation of the understandings reached between them, or at least presented to each other as if they had acted that way.”

Police said that Netanyahu offered his support for a bill to close Israel Hayom, to help shrink the newspaper’s circulation numbers, and to nix the free daily’s weekend edition. The law did not pass, as the government folded and went to elections in 2015.

Mozes’s lawyer said he had a good defense.

“We believe that, after further examination of the findings in the State Prosecutor’s Office, the case against him will be closed, and it will become clear that he did not commit a criminal offense,” the attorney said.

Netanyahu also said the recommendations would amount to nothing in a speech Tuesday evening. He noted that he had often worked against Milchan’s interests and that he had taken apart the government and called new elections in order to prevent the anti-Israel Hayom bill from going through.

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