Senior Justice Ministry officials have been deliberating whether to prohibit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also acting communications minister, from involvement in any decisions pertaining to Channel 10 due to his friendship with one of its owners, Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, Haaretz reported Tuesday.
Netanyahu and Milchan’s relationship has been the subject of much scrutiny of late, following revelations in early January that Milchan is the central figure in an ongoing corruption investigation against the prime minister known as Case 1000.
According to reports, much of the investigation revolves around allegations that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, illicitly received hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of cigars and champagne from Milchan.
An unnamed source close to Milchan told Haaretz last week that Milchan did not buy the gifts for the Netanyahus in return for any specific favor, but only because he enjoyed feeling close to the seat of power. Milchan, who is reportedly worth some $5.8 billion, “has already made his fortune,” the source said.
The Haaretz report also said that Milchan never displayed spontaneous generosity, only buying the gifts when the prime minister and his wife asked for them.
Milchan’s name has also surfaced in connection to a separate investigation of the prime minister known as Case 2000, which focuses on an alleged improper quid pro quo deal negotiated between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher and owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes, in which the prime minister would seek to limit the circulation of rival newspaper Israel Hayom in exchange for more flattering coverage in Yedioth.
According to a Channel 2 report, Milchan helped broker contacts between Mozes and potential buyers and investors in Yedioth. Netanyahu is also reported to have personally reached out to potential buyers, who included Australian billionaire and alleged Netanyahu benefactor James Packer, who is a sometimes-business partner of Milchan’s; Oracle head Larry Ellison; and Mathias Dopfner, the CEO of Germany’s Axel Springer publishing group. (The Axel Springer group has since denied ever considering buying Yedioth or negotiating on the issue.)
In its Tuesday report, Haaretz said the Justice Ministry deliberations on forbidding Netanyahu from involvement in any decisions affecting Channel 10 stem from recent requests by opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) and the Movement for Quality Government in Israel to the High Court of Justice to strip Netanyahu of the communications portfolio.
Justice Ministry officials are also reportedly considering whether to require Netanyahu to recuse himself from any deliberations regarding Channel 2, Channel 10’s major competitor.
On Sunday, the financial daily The Marker reported that Netanyahu did not report his relationship with Milchan, who owns 9.8 percent of Channel 10, as required when he became communications minister in 2015 to prevent any conflicts of interest, despite having been deeply involved in deliberations to prevent the channel’s closure due to financial troubles in 2014. He has also reportedly sought to close the channel due to its critical reporting on his conduct.
Last June, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit instructed Netanyahu to recuse himself from any decisions regarding a number of communications and media companies, including Bezeq, Yes, Pelephone, Bezeq International, Walla News and Eurocom, due to his friendship with owner Shaul Elovitch.
Mandelblit also told Netanyahu to refrain from any dealings with Bezeq’s chief competitor, HOT, in his role as communications minister, saying that that any decisions made by Netanyahu concerning HOT would raise concerns of a conflict of interest.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.