ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 146

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Sara Netanyahu embraces Milchan despite ban on contact

Milchan testifies Netanyahu didn’t help with US visa, contradicting key allegation

In fourth day of Hollywood mogul’s testimony, PM’s defense attorney seeks to prove two men had a genuine friendship, not a transactional relationship

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and businessman Arnon Milchan seen on a screen before his testimony in Netanyahu's Case 1000 corruption trial, in Brighton, on June 27, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)
Sara Netanyahu, wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and businessman Arnon Milchan seen on a screen before his testimony in Netanyahu's Case 1000 corruption trial, in Brighton, on June 27, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan testified on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not assist him in obtaining a long-term US visa in any way, describing the prosecution allegation as “nonsense.”

Milchan said that then-US Secretary of State John Kerry did not help him gain a visa either, contradicting testimony given by his personal assistant Hadas Klein last year. He added that the only help he received from Netanyahu in the matter was his advice to call then-US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, whom Milchan said he had already contacted over the matter.

One of the central charges in Case 1000 of Netanyahu’s trial is that the prime minister helped Milchan secure a ten-year US visa at the same time as Milchan was plying Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, with lavish gifts of champagne, cigars, clothing and jewelry worth NIS 462,000 ($127,000).

Milchan was speaking Wednesday on the fourth day of his testimony — and the second day of his cross-examination — in the trial from the Old Ship Hotel in Brighton, where he is testifying remotely due to health issues.

The hearing was once again a peevish affair, with Netanyahu’s defense attorney Amit Hadad and Deputy State Attorney Liat Ben Ari feuding frequently, including an incident in which Ben Ari accused another of Netanyahu’s attorneys of whispering to Milchan, an allegation the attorney and Hadad strenuously denied.

Just before the hearing began and before the judges had entered the Jerusalem courtroom, Sara Netanyahu, who has been present in the Brighton hotel throughout Milchan’s testimony, kissed and hugged and chatted with the movie producer in the conference room being used for his testimony.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seen at the Jerusalem District Court, arriving to listen to the testimony of businessman Arnon Milchan in Case 1000 corruption trial, on June 28, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

The interaction came despite warnings by the State Attorney’s Office and the presiding judges to Sara Netanyahu not to contact Milchan.

Hadad during the cross-examination sought to demonstrate that Netanyahu and Milchan were truly close friends, predating the former’s rise to the premiership, and that the gifts given by Milchan to the prime minister had been given and received in the context of that friendship and not as part of some mutually beneficial transactional relationship.

Asked by Hadad about his pursuit of a via, Milchan averred that “[Netanyahu] didn’t do a thing over the visa issue,” and argued that the prime minister would not even have been able to do anything if had wanted.

“So Netanyahu wasn’t able to help you with the visa?” asked Hadad.

“No, he wasn’t able to help me,” confirmed Milchan.

At that stage, Judge Moshe Baram interjected and asked Milchan if he had expected Netanyahu to help him out in obtaining the long-term visa extension.

A video screen shows Arnon Milchan testifying remotely from England in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, on June 26, 2023. ( Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)

“I checked if he could help, he told me to phone Dan Shapiro. That was the only help — to phone Dan Shapiro. But I spoke with Dan Shapiro before I went to Netanyahu,” insisted Milchan.

Milchan also asserted that he was acquainted with Kerry independently of Netanyahu and that he had been in touch with him regarding efforts to work toward peace with the Palestinians.

In a 2013 interview with the Uvda current affairs show, Milchan acknowledged that he had worked for the Israel Bureau of Scientific Relations, which sought to obtain scientific and technical knowhow for secret defense programs.

Following that interview, he was granted merely a one-year visa extension by the US authorities instead of the ten-year visa he had previously received.

In her testimony last year, Klein, Milchan’s personal assistant, claimed that Netanyahu had set up a phone call between her boss and Kerry that helped secure a new ten-year visa, but Milchan’s testimony on Wednesday appeared to contradict that account.

Other charges in Case 1000 allege that Netanyahu pushed to advance legislation at Milchan’s request that could have been used by the movie producer to obtain tax exemptions if he returned to live in Israel, as well as charges that Netanyahu assisted Milchan with regulatory issues pertaining to a potential merger between Reshet and Keshet, Israel’s main two TV networks, in which Milchan had a financial stake.

Hadas Klein at the witness stand in the Jerusalem District Court for the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, July 12, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In a separate part of Hadad’s cross-examination, he tried to demonstrate that the Netanyahus and Milchan had been genuine friends, and that the gifts Milchan gave them had not been given in the expectation, or demand, to receive favors in return.

Hadad submitted to the court the first letter Netanyahu wrote upon being elected prime minister in 2009, which was to Milchan.

In the letter, written in English, Netanyahu called Milchan his “brother” and said he would always be grateful for his help.

“My dear brother, I write this first letter as Prime Minister to you, Arnon. How does one express gratitude for boundless friendship? For me, my family, and our country you were like a rock in a storm, nothing flustered you, nothing stood in your way,” wrote Netanyahu to Milchan.

“Your wise counsel and warmth helped steer me through turbulent times. You tied loose ends and gave creative advice at the most critical moments. You did all this with humor and a discerning heart, with steely determination and a twinkle in your eyes. Throughout my time in this office and for the rest of my life, I will never forget what you did for me. Your friend always, Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Hadad also noted other points of fact about the friendship between the two men, observing that Milchan had at one time attended a school presentation of Avner Netanyahu, the prime minister and Sara’s son.

The defense attorney also noted, and Milchan confirmed, that the Netanyahus had sat at Milchan’s table during the celebration for his daughter’s wedding in 2008, and that he had hosted the couple with their children in his Paris apartment in 2000 — events that both took place when Netanyahu was not prime minister.

Netanyahu was indicted for fraud and breach of trust in three cases. The prime minister also faces a bribery charge over allegations 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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