ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 146

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Netanyahu trial session on day before election canceled as Milchan testimony delayed

Prosecutors tell court movie mogul underwent medical procedure requiring further treatment and recovery period; another witness scheduled to testify next Monday is unable to do so

Producer Arnon Milchan accepts the Film Tribute Award at the 26th Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards at Cipriani Wall Street, on November 28, 2016, in New York. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Producer Arnon Milchan accepts the Film Tribute Award at the 26th Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards at Cipriani Wall Street, on November 28, 2016, in New York. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Hollywood movie producer Arnon Milchan, who was set to testify in the ongoing corruption trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will not be able to do so as planned in the coming weeks, prosecutors told the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday.

Milchan has undergone a medical procedure that requires follow-up and a recovery period, so his scheduled testimony will be put off until a later date.

In addition, a witness who was set to give testimony during a court session scheduled for next Monday — the day before national elections — is unable to do so, prosecutors said. As a result, that day’s proceedings will be canceled, according to Hebrew media reports.

On Tuesday, the court had rejected a request from Netanyahu’s defense team that next Monday’s hearing be scrubbed due to its proximity to the election the next day in which Netanyahu, now opposition leader, is seeking to return to power. However, with witness Shani Koskas, the housekeeper at Australian billionaire James Packer’s Caesarea home, unable to testify that day — the proceedings will be pushed off anyway.

The trial timetable had scheduled a number of other witnesses to give testimony after Koskas, and then it would have been Milchan’s turn to take the stand by video link.

Wednesday saw the trial continue, with the cross-examination of prosecution witness Yonatan Hasson, who formerly worked as a driver for Milchan and Packer. Hasson is testifying in the so-called Case 1000, which revolves around luxury gifts that the former prime minister and his family allegedly 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.

Yonatan Hasson, Arnon Milchan’s former driver, arrives for a court hearing in the trial against former prime minister MK Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Jerusalem District Court on October 26, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A court hearing last month saw key witness Hadas Klein wrap up her testimony. Klein was a personal assistant to Packer and 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 — a stance Hasson repeated in direct testimony.

On Tuesday, defense attorney Amit Hadad pressed Hasson about discrepancies between the numbers of cases of champagne he claimed to have delivered when questioned by police, and the higher number to which he testified in court. In addition, for one event, he said two cases were delivered, while Hadas Klein, a former assistant to Milchan and Packer, said it was just one.

“I can’t remember every visit, every journey, exactly how many cases I brought, one or two,” Hasson said. “She (Klein) can say whatever she wants, I have no idea what she said.”

During testimony on Monday, Hasson 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, “one hundred percent.”

The defense has sought to downplay the gifts, claiming they were not all intended for Netanyahu and that the scope of the issue was not as large as the prosecution tried to portray.

Hadas Klein arrives for a hearing at the trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the Jerusalem District Court on September 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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 for that reason 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.

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