Arnon Milchan, the Israeli film producer at the heart of a corruption investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has reportedly confirmed to police 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.
Israel’s Channel 2 news, reporting on what it said was the Hollywood producer’s testimony to police in recent weeks, said Milchan told investigators that cigars, champagne and other valuables he gave to the Netanyahus started as occasional gifts, but morphed into a steady supply. The prime minister and his wife would make specific demands, and even send him reminders, and he would send supplies, the TV report quoted Milchan as saying.
Netanyahu was questioned for the third time under caution, for over three hours, on Friday over at least two graft cases — the one involving Milchan and other businessmen supplying gifts, and a second case involving an alleged quid pro quo deal he hatched with the publisher of the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing, and has charged in the past two days that the investigations are the consequence of a deliberate effort by the media and left-wing political opponents to oust him in what amounts to “an attempt at a coup.”
Channel 2’s report said there was “no doubt” that Netanyahu had broken laws on receiving gifts, and that the constant supply of valuables was akin to receiving regular “envelopes of money” — a reference to the case surrounding former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is currently serving a jail term for financial corruption.
Underlining the absence of clarity surrounding the Netanyahu investigations, one of the TV channel’s reporters said emphatically that the attorney general would not indict a serving prime minister for the offense, while a second reporter said police were leaning toward recommending an indictment.
A Channel 10 report Friday night said Milchan told police he had asked Netanyahu specifically whether it was legal for him to be providing the valuables he supplied, and that Netanyahu assured him it was.
Channel 10 said at least four businessmen in addition to Milchan are suspected of providing gifts, including diamonds, to Sara Netanyahu and their son Yair.
Milchan has reportedly told police that while the supply of gifts might sound costly, it was not significant for a man of his billionaire means.
He also reportedly said he has no business interests in Israel; his place on the board of Channel 10, he said, is a “trustee” position rather than an ownership role.
It has been reported that Netanyahu three times intervened on his behalf with former US secretary of state John Kerry to successfully obtain a 10-year US residency visa for him. But Milchan defined the gifts as acts of friendship and said he sought nothing in return, Channel 2 reported.
Netanyahu has also claimed that the gifts from Milchan were a result of their deep friendship, and asserted in the Knesset this week that there was nothing wrong with his accepting them. “The law says you can get gifts from friends,” he told MKs.
Milchan kept receipts for the gifts for normal procedural accounting, he reportedly told police, and not for use against Netanyahu in any way.
As regards the second major case for which Netanyahu is being probed, Channel 2 said that the prime minister held five years of discussions with Yedioth publisher Arnon Mozes, and that the case against Netanyahu was becoming increasingly serious. Mozes has been questioned under caution six times to date.
Mozes and Netanyahu allegedly hatched a deal under which the prime minister would advance legislation that would reduce the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily’s circulation in exchange for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. No such deal was implemented.