Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly provided investigators with a set of photos showing him and his wife enjoying leisure time with Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and his family, in a bid to strengthen his claim that the expensive cigars and champagne the Milchans lavished on the Netanyahus were gifts between old friends.
One of the photographs, which were obtained by Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) on Thursday, showed the Netanyahus playing ball with one of the Milchan’s children. Others showed the prime minister and Arnon Milchan posing for the camera with their arms around each others’ shoulders; Sara Netanyahu smiling with Milchan’s wife, Amanda, against the backdrop of the Sea of Galilee; and Sara Netanyahu greeting Arnon Milchan and his mother.
The Netanyahus’ lawyer, Yaakov Weinroth, has repeatedly claimed that the relationship between the two families was deep and had been going on for a long time.
But the TV report also quoted attorney Liat Ben Ari, who is managing the investigation into suspicions of bribery, fraud and breach of trust against Netanyahu, as saying that elected officials were forbidden from accepting valuable gifts, even from friends. The cigars and champagne supplied by Milchan to the Netanyahus over several years were thought to have been worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.
A spokesman for the Netanyahus responded that a “flood of tendentious and false leaks” was continuing with “suspicious timing.”
Those leaking the claims were “working overtime” to harm and slander the prime minister and his family, the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Channel 10 news reported that Milchan’s driver told investigators that he had had to leave his home in the middle of the Passover Seder to deliver champagne at the request of Sara Netanyahu.
On Tuesday, Channel 10 reported that the unnamed driver had told investigators several months ago that Milchan’s personal assistant, Hadas Klein, “would tell me that the Netanyahus are asking for a supply of champagne and cigars again.
“I thought to myself that very large quantities of products were involved. I didn’t understand why Milchan had to supply them to the couple. I did these deliveries on many occasions,” he said.
On Monday, Hadashot news reported that Hadas Klein, Milchan’s personal assistant, told police about the system by which the goods were delivered to the Netanyahus.
“Sarah [Netanyahu] would send me an email or would call me and tell me that the drink, the champagne, had run out and she’d ask me to bring more. And not only champagne. Cigars as well,” she was quoted as saying. “There were code words for champagne and cigars. It went on for years. There was an understanding that Arnon had to supply the Netanyahu couple with whatever they wanted. The cigars were requested by [Benjamin] Netanyahu.”
While leaked reports of the police investigation have indicated that Milchan spent some NIS 400,000-600,000 ($100,000-150,000) on champagne and cigars for the Netanyahus over the best part of a decade, the prime minister and his wife have reportedly told police the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were unremarkable since the Milchans were their best friends.
As for claims that Milchan kept Netanyahu supplied with expensive cigars on an ongoing basis for most of a decade — the lion’s share of the hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of allegedly illicit benefits — the Netanyahus reportedly told police he was merely a “social smoker” and that whenever his friend Milchan came to see him, he would bring just three to six cigars, worth about $10 each.
Netanyahu was interrogated under caution for four hours a week ago — his fifth questioning session in the investigation — and was reportedly confronted with Klein’s testimony, among others.
In an effort to shore up the suspicion of bribery, police were also said to have asked the prime minister about a number of “favors” he may have provided for Milchan in return.
Pressed over reports that he asked US Secretary of State John Kerry three times in 2014 to arrange a long-term visa for Milchan, an Israeli citizen, to live in the US, Netanyahu has admitted to making a request, but claims it had nothing to do with the gifts he received.
In addition to the US visa, police are reportedly investigating whether Netanyahu intervened in the sale of the Channel 10 shares to benefit Milchan financially, and whether the prime minister sought to help the Hollywood producer secure a major stake in Channel 2.
Milchan also allegedly asked Netanyahu to promote a free trade zone near the Jordan-Israel border. The request was said to have been made following consultation with Indian billionaire Ratan Tata, whose Tata business conglomerate may have stood to benefit from the deal. The initiative never came through.
The investigation into the gifts from Milchan has been dubbed Case 1000. Netanyahu is also a suspect in a second investigation, Case 2000, which is examining an alleged clandestine quid-pro-quo deal he made with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher and owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes, in which the prime minister was said to have promised Mozes he would hobble Yedioth’s main commercial rival, the freebie Israel Hayom, in exchange for friendlier coverage from Yedioth.
The Netanyahus deny any wrongdoing.