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Netanyahu said to have asked for cigars from Israeli billionaire on Memorial Day

Israeli TV says PM also sought to secure job for a friend of his son’s from Australian businessman at the same time Israel was carrying out strikes on Gaza

Arnon Milchan (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in the Knesset, on March 28, 2005. (Flash90/ File)
Arnon Milchan (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in the Knesset, on March 28, 2005. (Flash90/ File)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly requested cigars during Memorial Day in 2016 from an Israeli-born Hollywood producer at the center of a high-profile corruption case implicating the premier.

According to a Channel 13 report Tuesday, Netanyahu called Arnon Milchan’s assistant multiple times on Memorial Day in 2016 to ask for cigars. The report did not say if he received them.

Memorial Day, which honors the country’s fallen soldiers and those killed in terror attacks, is considered one of the most solemn days of the year in Israel and is usually marked with commemoration ceremonies and cemetery visits.

The network said its report was based on case files from the trio of corruption investigations in which Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said he will charge Netanyahu, pending a hearing.

Several months later in 2016, the report said, Netanyahu was at Australian billionaire James Packer’s home in Israel and sought to arrange employment for a friend of his eldest son Yair, at the very same time Israel was carrying out airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. The report did not clarify the context of the military action in Gaza, but Israel carried out military strikes on the coastal enclave on a number of occasions that year in response to rocket fire.

The report did not name the friend of Yair Netanyahu. Israeli television has previously reported that his friend Roman Abramov was given a high-paying position at one of Packer’s companies.

Both Milchan and Packer were named in Case 1000, one of the probes involving Netanyahu, which is based on suspicions the premier accepted gifts from the billionaires in exchange for favors.

According to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, the prime minister and his wife received gifts amounting to NIS 701,146 ($195,000), with NIS 477, 972 ($130,000) worth of cigars, champagne and jewelry from Milchan, and NIS 229, 174 ($75,000) worth of cigars and champagne from Packer.

Mandelblit said he intends to indict Netanyahu, who has denied wrongdoing, with fraud and breach of trust in the case. Neither Milchan nor Packer were charged.

James Packer at a news conference of the Studio City project in Macau, October 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

The Channel 13 report came hours after Netanyahu’s lawyers collected the case files in the corruption investigations against him, after more than a month of refusing to accept the material in an apparent bid to delay a pre-indictment hearing currently scheduled to take place no later than July 10.

“Bravo to the State Prosecutor’s Office, which successfully overcame its desire and restrained itself from the illegal leaks, five hours after the gathering of materials by the prime minister’s lawyers, before they leaked them,” a statement on Netanyahu’s behalf, in response to the report, said sarcastically.

“This is a significant improvement from past times when [prosecutors] leaked even before the materials got to us,” the statement added.

Amid speculation that the prime minister is stalling in order to advance legislation that would grant him immunity from prosecution, a spokesman for Netanyahu insisted Tuesday that the delay in accepting the case files was due to his lawyers not having been paid. This, the spokesman claimed, was the fault of the state for refusing to allow wealthy foreign benefactors to foot the prime minister’s legal bills.

Netanyahu’s attorneys are locked in a battle with the Permits Committee in the State Comptroller’s Office over his request to fund his defense with the help of overseas financiers. The committee has already rejected the request twice. On Sunday, it said it will only consider it for a third time once Netanyahu divulges details on his own assets, something he has so far refused to do.

The panel said it was inappropriate for non-Israeli benefactors to pay for the prime minister’s legal defense in a criminal case that alleges he received illicit gifts from wealthy individuals in Israel and abroad.

In addition to Case 1000, Netanyahu has been accused of fraud and breach of trust in Case 2000, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000.

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