Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — accused by police Tuesday of having accepted bribes worth a total of NIS 1 million ($285,000) from wealthy businessmen in return for favors — received only gifts, not bribes, and their total value amounted to less than NIS 500,000 ($142,000), a lawyer for the premier claimed a day later.
Amit Hadad said that he had “never seen a document so full of holes” as the police recommendation to indict the prime minister for corruption, and that the figures quoted were “inflated and irrelevant.”
“I can’t say exactly what the amount is, but it’s blown out of proportion. It’s less than half a million [shekels],” he said.
In what is known as Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are alleged to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, including some NIS 750,000 ($212,000) worth of cigars, champagne, jewelry and clothing from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and some NIS 250,000 ($70,000) worth of gifts from Milchan’s business partner James Packer.
Hadad said Netanyahu was never involved in promoting Milchan’s business interests and that he had actually acted against Milchan’s interests on several occasions.
“He did not receive bribes at all, not every day and not at all,” he told Israel Radio.
“When the figures are wrong from the start, then the whole process is wrong,” he said. “The fact that the friendship [between the two] was so deep is not mentioned. These stories aren’t serious. I’m not going into the motives of the police.”
In a dramatic announcement Tuesday night, police said they were recommending that Netanyahu be indicted for a series of serious corruption charges including bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in two separate cases, and that they believed they had collected enough evidence to bring the cases to trial.
As the recommendations and detailed allegations were published, reports said the ostensible key witness against the prime minister in Case 1000 was his political rival, former finance minister Yair Lapid.
Lapid, according to the reports, gave evidence that the prime minister pushed to extend the period of time that new immigrants and returning residents could be exempt from declaring and paying tax on overseas income from ten years to 20 years — a move that could have saved billionaires such as Milchan millions of dollars had it not been thwarted by the Treasury.
Police said that in return for the goods he received from wealthy associates, Netanyahu pushed a number of projects, the most significant of which was the effort to extend that exemption, in what has become known as the “Milchan Law.” The original exemption for 10 years was written into law in 2008, under Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert.
After publication of the police recommendations on Tuesday night, Lapid confirmed that he had given testimony on the issue.
“Police contacted me and asked me to give testimony about my time at the Finance Ministry,” he said. “Like any law-abiding citizen, I gave them a short testimony, which touched on the attempt to extend the ‘Milchan Law’ (on tax exemptions) to 20 years.”
Hadad, noting that Lapid had worked for Milchan for several years, asked, “Who had the authority to extend Milchan’s exemption? [Then] finance minister Yair Lapid, who worked with Milchan for years.
“Yair Lapid has egg on his face on issues connected with Milchan,” he continued. “The police document tries, in a few sentences, to describe a reality that is far more complex.”
Likening the police recommendation document to Swiss cheese, “full of holes,” Hadad added, “The prime minister did not involve himself with any issues to benefit Milchan. He didn’t advance [Milchan’s] business and did not work on any legislation for Milchan’s benefit. Lapid was the one who sat with his former employer and discussed the law.
“The prime minister never acted and did not deal with any issue for Milchan, except for the issue of the visa,” he asserted, referring to Netanyahu’s apparent efforts to lobby US authorities to extend the businessman’s 10-year visa.
Boaz Ben Zur, a lawyer for Milchan, told Army Radio that he was “surprised” by the police conclusions, which included the recommendation that his client be indicted for giving bribes.
“The relationship [between Netanyahu and Milchan] is one of friendship” and did not fit the description of bribery,” he said. “Milchan arrived to give testimony about a year ago. He didn’t even really consult with lawyers.”
Police have also recommended indicting Netanyahu in so-called Case 2000, which involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes 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.
The prime minister denies all the allegations against him.