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Netanyahu said to have asked Milchan for cigars when discussing US visa

Former aide to PM reportedly tells police his boss appeared to ask Hollywood producer to compensate him for services rendered

Arnon Milchan, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu on March 28, 2005. (Flash90)
Arnon Milchan, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu on March 28, 2005. (Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan if he had brought him cigars during a conversation regarding Milchan’s difficulties renewing his US residency visa, the prime minister’s former chief of staff Ari Harow reportedly told police.

Harow, who last year turned state’s witness against Netanyahu, told investigators that Milchan approached Netanyahu for help in renewing his 10-year visa. When the two met to discuss the issue, Harow said the prime minister directly asked Milchan if he had brought him cigars, Channel 10 news reported Tuesday.

“Did you bring the cigars?” he asked frankly.

According to the report, Harow’s latest testimony strengthens police suspicions of a quid pro quo arrangement between Netanyahu and Milchan. The report did not say when the conversation between Netanyahu and Milchan took place, nor when Harow gave the testimony to police.

Milchan is a central figure in a criminal investigation known as Case 1000 that involves suspicions he gave Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars, champagne and jewelry, possibly in exchange for favors from the prime minister.

He was questioned in London by Israeli investigators last year. Israel’s national police chief later described Milchan’s testimony as “significant.”

During his testimony, Milchan denied Netanyahu had intervened on his behalf with then-US secretary of state John Kerry to successfully obtain a 10-year US residency visa for him, saying he had turned to many people for help and had only asked Netanyahu to clarify the status of his request.

Ari Harow, former chief of staff of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a Likud meeting in the Israeli parliament, November 24, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

While leaked reports of the police investigation have indicated that Milchan spent some NIS 400,000-600,000 ($115,000-172,000) on champagne and cigars for the Netanyahus over the better part of a decade, the prime minister and his wife have reportedly told police that the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were unremarkable, since the Milchans were their best friends.

Netanyahu is also a suspect in a separate investigation known as Case 2000, in which he and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes are suspected of agreeing to an illicit quid pro quo deal that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

Earlier this month, Channel 10 reported that Sara Netanyahu had asked Milchan to help cover tens of thousands of shekels’ worth of repairs at their private residence. Milchan reportedly turned down that request.

According to Hadashot TV news, police have revised their plan to submit recommendations in the two corruption cases against Netanyahu in the coming weeks, with the investigation now expected to wrap up by Passover, at the end of March.

Netanyahu himself appears to expect police to recommend charges against him, and has sought to downplay the importance of any such recommendation, recently telling a rally of Likud party members it would be meaningless, since state prosecutors, not police, make a final decision on indictments.

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