ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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Netanyahu vetoed large donation by Packer to Peres Center, key witness tells court

Former PM, a longtime political rival of late Shimon Peres, ‘was very angry’ upon learning of Australian billionaire’s plan to assist center, Hadas Klein says

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the memorial ceremony for the late president Shimon Peres, at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, on September 19, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the memorial ceremony for the late president Shimon Peres, at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem, on September 19, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A key witness in the corruption trial of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu testifies that the former prime minister vetoed a $3 million donation to the Peres Center by Australian billionaire James Packer.

Hadas Klein, the personal assistant of Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and an aide to Packer, told the Jerusalem District Court on Monday that Packer proudly announced to Milchan that he intended to make the donation.

“After donating one million, Milchan told Netanyahu about it,” she said.

“Netanyahu was very angry and called [Packer] and demanded that we halt the rest of the donation, saying there were other bodies worth donating to,” she added.

“Since then, Packer never donated to the Peres Center again.”

The Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Jaffa was established in 1996 by the late president Shimon Peres. The center was founded based on the principles of promoting peace with the Palestinians and Israeli innovation.

Peres was a longtime political rival of Netanyahu.

Then-prime minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu, left, glances at then-outgoing prime minister Shimon Peres during a ceremony at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 17 1996. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Klein’s testimony has focused on Case 1000, relating to the luxury gifts the former prime minister and his family received and any quid-pro-quos Netanyahu may have provided in return.

The indictment against Netanyahu in Case 1000 charges the former prime minister with fraud and breach of trust for accepting luxury gifts from Milchan and Packer worth NIS 691,776 (about $200,000) and for intervening on behalf of Milchan when he was seeking a US visa renewal and assisting him with regulatory benefits.

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 and claimed without evidence that the charges were fabricated and part of a bid by the state prosecution and political rivals to force him out of office.

Klein’s testimony on Monday was given as she was being cross-examined by Netanyahu’s lawyers.

Klein has previously testified that she supplied the Netanyahus with thousands of dollars’ worth of cigars and champagne at their request.

Netanyahu’s lawyer Amit Hadad asked the court on Monday to exclude receipts for the cigars from evidence, claiming that police did not obtain them legally.

He also challenged Klein’s assertion that all the cigars bought were for Netanyahu, reading from Milchan’s testimony that he would regularly offer his guests cigars and was known as a cigar aficionado.

Arnon Milchan poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film ‘Widows,’ showing as part of the opening gala of the BFI London Film Festival in London, on October 10, 2018. (Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

“I’m telling you Milchan bought tons of cigars and champagne, with no connection to Netanyahu,” Hadad argued, to which Klein replied: “And I say differently, that’s what I know.”

Hadad then asked Klein about other visits that Milchen had hosted at the time, including by lawmakers Avigdor Liberman, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak and Yair Lapid, trying to present such visits as lavish and claiming that the billionaire would always offer his guests cigars and alcoholic drinks.

“I never saw any of them smoke cigars,” Klein replied. “I walk into meetings all the time.”

Confronted by Hadad about the large amounts of alcohol that Packer would purchase for himself and his team on a regular basis, Klein said: “He drank alcohol in large quantities, everything was available, all brands… but he never drank pink champagne,” which was unique to the Netanyahus.

Hadas Klein arrives at a court hearing in the trial against former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem on July 18, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Klein’s testimony has posed a challenge to Netanyahu’s defense, which has struggled to contradict her remarks.

Earlier this month, she described becoming the conduit for a never-ending supply of premium cigars and champagne to the Netanyahus, goods she said were not volunteered by Milchan or Packer but requested directly by the ex-premier and his wife.

Her testimony is highly significant since it undermines Netanyahu’s defense that he was merely accepting gifts from a friend and that he was not aware of the extent of the gifts.

The indictment alleges that in return, the former prime minister assisted Milchan with personal visa issues and regulatory and tax benefits relating to his business interests in Israel.

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