'Part of the deal was not to hurt the PM and his wife'

Milchan says the Netanyahus directed him to broker positive media coverage

Media mogul, a state witness, says he negotiated between two rival newspapers to improve coverage of family in exchange for calming their business war

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Sara Netanyahu and businessman Arnon Milchan seen on a screen before his testimony in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial, in Brighton, UK, on June 27, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)
Sara Netanyahu and businessman Arnon Milchan seen on a screen before his testimony in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial, in Brighton, UK, on June 27, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan confirmed on Tuesday that he acted at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to try to facilitate an agreement between two warring newspapers, in the hopes that one of them, whose coverage of the prime minister was negative, would lighten up on him.

From the remote witness stand in Brighton, England, Milchan told prosecutors that “the prime minister and the prime minister’s wife,” Sara, asked him to leverage his personal relationships with Yedioth Ahronoth proprietor Arnon “Noni” Mozes and the late Israel Hayom owner Sheldon Adelson to find a deal.

“Part of the deal was not to hurt the prime minister and his wife,” Milchan, a state witness, said of the 2009 effort. He added that Mozes believed at the time that if Yedioth Ahronoth sufficiently pounded Netanyahu in its pages, the premier would push Adelson to come to a deal to limit the circulation of his free daily, which ate into Mozes’s profits.

“Every time I got a negative answer in the negotiations, I informed Netanyahu,” he added, of the prime minister’s involvement.

The never-finalized deal forms the basis of the prosecution’s Case 2000 against Netanyahu for fraud and breach of trust. Simply proving illegal behavior, rather than a successful outcome to that behavior, is required for conviction.

When asked by the prosecutor why he sought to broker a deal in which he had no direct interest, Milchan said, “I was involved because I was close to the prime minister and his wife. It was important to me that they not go through the suffering they claim they were going through coming from Noni, and the only way to do so was through Israel Hayom, to reverse the balance of threats.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the Jerusalem District Court to listen to video testimony from businessman Arnon Milchan in the prime minister’s corruption trial, June 27, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon / Flash90)

The Hollywood producer and former Netanyahu associate is on the stand primarily to testify in Case 1000, and has confirmed that he provided expensive gifts to the Netanyahu family. The state alleges these gifts were given improperly alongside several requests Milchan made for help with his expiring US visa and extending Israeli tax breaks for returning citizens.

The state’s indictment against Netanyahu values the lavish presents at NIS 462,000 ($127,000), with an additional NIS 229,000 ($62,000) of gifts attributed to Australian billionaire James Packer.

Tuesday was the third day of Milchan’s testimony, and marked the close of the prosecution’s direct examination.

Opening the cross-examination, a lawyer for Prime Minister Netanyahu told Milchan that his goal is to “correct this injustice done to you and that was done to Netanyahu.”

“You are a wonderful person, everyone in this room owes a huge debt for what you did for the benefit of the country’s security,” said defense lawyer Amit Hadad, in reference to the media mogul’s past of dealing arms and working for Israel’s Mossad spy agency.

Arnon Milchan (center) with Shimon Peres (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu, March 28, 2005. (Flash90/File)

“Unfortunately, they turned you into a person who gave cigars and champagne. They dragged you into a thing in which you don’t belong. You are an honest person and you never thought you were doing anything improper,” Hadad added.

“A significant part of the cross-examination will be devoted to correcting this injustice that was done to you and that was done to Netanyahu,” he continued.

Part of Hadad’s strategy was to emphasize Milchan’s closeness to Netanyahu as a basis for Milchan’s extensive gift-giving.

The defense attorney pointed to a letter that Netanyahu sent Milchan upon entering office in 2009, and said it “shows deep friendship.”

Similarly, Hadad said that the Netanyahu and Milchans mutually engaged in gifting, pointing to tokens that Sara Netanyahu gave to Milchan’s wife, Amanda.

“The mutual gifts Sara gave to Amanda and the children and the gifts you gave — this is part of that friendship,” Hadad said.

On Monday, Milchan testified that his lavish gifts to the Netanyahus were not reciprocated.

In a second line of defense, Hadad attempted to cast doubt upon Milchan’s credibility, saying the 78-year-old’s memory must be fading.

Discussing a free trade zone that Milchan and Indian businessman Ratan Tata tried to promote between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan, Hadad charged that Milchan could not clearly remember events that happened “more than a decade ago.”

“Certify to me that in all of your interrogations, in your witness testimony,” which Milchan delivered yesterday on the subject, “they didn’t present you real-time documents connected to Tata,” but rather “they let you speak from an old memory that was faded and broken.”

Milchan responded that his memory “is neither faded nor broken.”

Milchan had approached Netanyahu to help advance the project, and later brokered a meeting with Tata, which Milchan said was meant to facilitate introductions to India’s prime minister.

File: Amit Hadad, the chief defense attorney in the corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on May 8, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shortly after Hadad’s opening, Netanyahu arrived at Jerusalem’s District Court — the third day in a row that the prime minister has attended hearings.

Defense lawyers asked to clear the courtroom shortly before the premier’s arrival, claiming that they wanted to question Milchan about sensitive security events.

Closed doors followed Netanyahu outside of the courthouse as well. Anticipating the prime minister at the District Court, police asked local Palestinian businesses to temporarily shutter. Moe Tahhan, owner of East Jerusalem’s Sawra Street Cafe, said that his restaurant — across the street from the court — was also asked by police to close, without compensation, when the prime minister arrived on Monday.

Netanyahu was indicted for fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000, as well as an additional count of the charge in Case 4000. The prime minister also faces a bribery charge in Case 4000, which alleges that he promised regulatory benefits for telecom giant Bezeq in order to secure positive media coverage from the Walla news site, which at the time was owned by the same family.

Netanyahu has steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout the investigation and trial, claiming the charges were the result of a biased media and police force, overseen by a weak attorney general. Both the police commissioner at the time of investigation and the attorney general during the indictment were appointed by Netanyahu.

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