Jewish-American billionaire Larry Ellison lobbied and convinced fellow magnate Arnon Milchan to give up the services of his attorney in one of the criminal cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in order to allow him to represent the premier in the case, an Israeli newspaper reported Thursday.
Netanyahu, who was lacking top tier legal representation, had Ellison use his influence to convince Milchan to drop Boaz Ben Tzur and free him up to help Netanyahu, according to the Haaretz daily.
Milchan is a key figure in one of the three corruption cases faced by Netanyahu.
Case 1000, involves allegations of a long-term and wide-ranging illicit relationship between the prime minister and the Hollywood producer, that supposedly saw the billionaire provide Netanyahu with hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts in exchange for the premier’s aid to Milchan in various matters.
Though police recommended charging Milchan in Case 1000, prosecutors eventually decided not to do so. Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in the case.
The report said Milchan was concerned that allowing Ben Tzur to represent Netanyahu could hurt his image and damage him legally, but he relented after pressure from Ellison, who owns Oracle Corporation.
“They used a heavy cannon on Milchan, a very connected man [for whom] it’s unpleasant to refuse,” an unnamed businessman who knows Milchan told the newspaper. “I understand from Milchan that his conversations with Ellison were what tipped the scales.”
Netanyahu’s associates phoned Ben Tzur after Milchan and Ellison spoke, telling him “we received permission” for the lawyer to represent the prime minister, the report said.
“Netanyahu, who hadn’t spoken with Milchan in four years since the investigations began, called him, warmly thanked him and told him he loves him,” the businessman was quoted saying.
The report also said Milchan instructed Ben Tzur to inform Liat Ben-Ari, the top prosecutor in the graft cases involving Netanyahu, that he was now working for the prime minister, believing she would veto the move. Sources at the Justice Ministry said she took no stance either way, lacking authority to intervene in the relationship between a lawyer and client.
Netanyahu refused to comment on the report and the newspaper said neither Ellison nor Milchan responded to a request for comment.
Ben Tzur also represented Hadas Klein, Milchan’s personal assistant, who provided testimony in the case.
Besides Case 1000, Netanyahu also was indicted on fraud and breach of trust charges in two other cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He has denied wrongdoing and claimed the charges are an effort by political rivals, the media, law enforcement and prosecutors to remove him from office.