Milchan’s driver supports previous testimony, describes luxury gifts to Netanyahus
Trial resumes after three week hiatus; driver Yonatan Hasson says ‘99%’ of all high-end cigars were purchased for Netanyahu, confirming Hadas Klein’s testimony
Court deliberations in the corruption trial of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu resumed Monday at the Jerusalem District Court after a three-week hiatus, with the personal driver of an Israeli businessman describing how he routinely provided the Netanyahus with shipments of champagne boxes and cigars.
Yonatan Hasson, who worked as a driver for Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, was brought to testify in court as a witness for the prosecution in the so-called Case 1000, which revolves around luxury gifts that the former prime minister and his family received from businessmen and benefits Netanyahu is accused of having provided in return.
The case is one of three in the former premier’s trial.
A court hearing last month saw key witness Hadas Klein wrap up her testimony. Klein was a personal assistant to Australian billionaire James Packer and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, and provided evidence on the gifts she helped deliver to Netanyahu and his family. At the time, attorney for the prosecution Alon Gildin read aloud for the court an account to the police from Hasson in which he stated that “99 percent” of all high-end cigars purchased by Milchan were purchased for Netanyahu.
During his testimony on Monday, Hasson reiterated that notion and provided more details that seemed to support the idea of Milchan routinely supplying Netanyahu and his family with luxury goods.
“Most of the items that were bought were champagne bottles and cigars. There were other things like luxurious coats and purses,” he said, adding that Klein had told him that she was asked to purchase the items by one of the two businessmen.
Asked by the judge whether Milchan and Packer were aware of the extent of the gifts purchased for the Netanyahus, he said that they were, “one hundred percent.”
Hasson added that “Milchan was aware of every little thing leaving the house that was purchased by him.” Packer, Hasson said, “knew about the whole arrangement and asked not to be notified about every little detail.”
The defense has sought to downplay the issue of the gifts, claiming they were not all intended for Netanyahu and that the scope of the phenomenon was not as large as the prosecution would like to portray.
Hasson described his duties in driving Milchan to the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour street in Jerusalem. “My job was to drive Milchan and champagne to Balfour, some of which he would take in a cooler with ice and meet with [Netanyahu’s wife] Sara or Bibi. He would occasionally take cigars as well,” Hasson told the court.
Asked how many times he drove Milchan to Balfour, Hasson said, “Wow, must have been around 15 times.”
He also described delivering champagne and food to Netanyahu’s private residence in Caesarea on several occasions. In one case, he said, he drove there from Packer’s house with two crates of champagne and was welcomed by Netanyahu himself.
Hasson mentioned one instance of placing 12 champagne bottles in Netanyahu’s vehicle, as per Milchan’s request. “When [Sara] was leaving, she asked me if I had taken care of her. I said that I had and she said it was for the good of the country.”
The prosecution also asked Hasson what he knew about expensive jewelry delivered to Sara.
“When I began the job in 2011, Klein sent out a fax with a sketch of a piece of jewelry. She didn’t tell me anything, only that I should drive it to a studio in Moshav HaYogev. I never picked it up again. In time, Klein told me that jewelry was intended for Sara Netanyahu,” Hasson told the court, confirming earlier testimony by Klein about Sara sketching pictures of jewelry she wanted Packer to purchase for her.
In another instance, Hasson described how an assistant of Milchan had purchased a piece of jewelry worth $45,000 for Sara.
While he never actually saw it, Hasson described to the court driving Klein to Balfour to show the receipt to Sara. “Arnon [Milchan] wanted Sara to see how much it cost and he excused that by [Klein] telling Sara it was for insurance purposes.”
The indictment in Case 1000 against the former prime minister accuses Netanyahu of violating conflict of interest laws when he provided Milchan with assistance in renewing his long-term US residency visa. It alleges that this — alongside Milchan’s supply of an estimated NIS 700,000 ($205,000) worth of cigars, champagne, jewelry and other luxury items to Netanyahu and his wife — constituted fraud and breach of trust.
Netanyahu’s defense team has sought to poke holes in the prosecution’s narrative by claiming that the former prime minister and his wife had a genuine friendship with Milchan, who gave them gifts out of a sense of friendship and not in order to receive favors.
The defense also pointed out during cross-examination that the gifts for Netanyahu began before he became prime minister in 2009, and that on at least one occasion Sara Netanyahu had bought an apparently valuable gift for Milchan’s wife, Amanda, demonstrating that the relationship was reciprocal.
Along with Case 1000, Netanyahu faces fraud and breach of trust charges in two other cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He has denied wrongdoing.