Lapid said to have asked for legal opinion on law benefiting Hollywood mogul

Lapid said to have asked for legal opinion on law benefiting Hollywood mogul

New information contradicts ex-finance minister's previous claim he flatly nixed proposal on tax breaks despite pressure from PM, Arnon Milchan

Producer Arnon Milchan in 2016 (left) and Knesset member Yair Lapid in 2018 (composite photo: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP; Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Producer Arnon Milchan in 2016 (left) and Knesset member Yair Lapid in 2018 (composite photo: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP; Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In 2013, then-finance minister Yair Lapid sought legal advice on the possibility of promoting a law benefiting his friend, Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, according to a report on Thursday.

The report by the Haaretz newspaper on Thursday contradicted Lapid’s statement last month, when he was forced to explain his friendship with Milchan as a witness against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a corruption probe known as Case 1000. In February, Lapid claimed that he had simply replied “no way” to Netanyahu and Milchan when they pressured him to to extend legislation under which new immigrants and returning Israelis are exempt from declaring and paying tax on income earned overseas, in a move that could have saved Milchan millions of dollars.

Lapid, in a statement last month, said “that was the end of it.”

However, Haaretz on Thursday reported that Lapid asked his office staff at the time to formulate a legal opinion on the proposed so-called “Milchan Law.”

The Finance Ministry’s budget department submitted a five-page document within a few days, the report said, and the ministry also held a meeting to discuss some of the ministry staff’s objection to the law.

It was only then that Lapid rejected the proposal, according to the daily.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on February 26, 2018.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last month, police recommended Netanyahu be indicted on bribery, fraud, and breach of trust charges over some NIS 1 million worth of gifts, including NIS 750,000 ($212,000) from Milchan. Police accused the prime minister of pushing for legislative amendments on tax breaks that would have benefited Milchan, advancing his business interests, and aiding his visa arrangements.

TV reports last month intimated that Lapid’s testimony was a decisive factor in the police recommendations to indict the prime minister in the case. The former finance minister, however, denied this, saying he had merely confirmed other accounts and was not a “key witness.”

After those reports were published, Lapid said he had firmly withstood pressure to advance the bill. “I simply stated, ‘No way,’ and that was the end of it. It was not my job to help Milchan or any other tycoon, but rather to look after the country’s coffers,” he said in a statement.

The new report cast doubt on his earlier account.

Lapid’s office, however, on Thursday said the new information “strengthens” his testimony “even more.”

“Here is more proof that Lapid acted in full accordance with his professional staff and fully supported it in face of the pressure from above to promote the law,” his office said.

Following the report, coalition chairman David Amsalem of the Likud party took to Twitter to lambaste the Yesh Atid party leader.

“Instead of being interrogated as a central criminal, they are turning him into a witness for the prosecution,” Amsalem wrote.

To that, Lapid’s office reacted by saying that “again, the prime minister’s associates are trying to slander, and time and time again it is revealed that the prime minister received a million shekels and pushed the Milchan law, and Lapid didn’t get a penny from anyone and did everything to block the legislation.”

Netanyahu has denied all wrongdoing in that case (as well as in another, in which he is also suspected of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust), stressing that he and Milchan have been friends for decades and claiming that he has advanced initiatives that actively harmed the billionaire’s business interests.

Investigators also recommended criminal charges against Milchan over his alleged bribes to the Netanyahus — including cigars, champagne and jewelry — while accusing the prime minister of pushing for the legislative amendments benefiting Milchan.

The attorney general will make the final decision on indictments.

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