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The prime minister's side of the cigars-and-champagne story

Netanyahus said to tell cops Milchan gifts were much less valuable than claimed

There was no continuous supply of costly cigars, just a handful whenever these ‘best friends’ got together; and those wine receipts are off-the-mark too

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara (C) and their son Yair seen with actress Kate Hudson at an event held at the home of producer Arnon Milchan (right), March 6, 2014. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara (C) and their son Yair seen with actress Kate Hudson at an event held at the home of producer Arnon Milchan (right), March 6, 2014. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

While leaked reports of the police investigation into cigars and fine wines supplied to Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu have indicated that Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan spent some 400,000-600,000 shekels ($100,000-150,000) on such luxuries for them, 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 are their best friends.

On Thursday, Channel 2 showed receipts from a store in Herzliya where Milchan was said to have bought champagne for Sara Netanyahu totaling 57,000 shekels. Citing what it said was testimony from the prime minister and his wife, the same TV station said Friday that the Netanyahus claim they received purchase worth “maybe a third” of that sum.

As for claims that Milchan kept Netanyahu supplied with expensive cigars on a continuous basis for most of a decade — the lion’s share of the hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of allegedly illicit benefits — the Netanyahus, in their testimony, dismissed these reports. Netanyahu told police he was merely a “social smoker” and that whenever his friend Arnon Milchan came to see him, he would bring just three to six cigars, worth about $10 each.

These and other gifts from the Milchans were presents from their “best friends,” the TV report quoted the Netanyahus telling police. The prime minister and Sara Netanyahu, who testified Wednesday, are also said to have told police that they gave the Milchans gifts, including a necklace for Milchan’s wife.

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

The families meet up “all the time,” the Netanyahus were said to have told the police, and they have the photos to prove it.

As for gifts from a second businessman named in the case, James Packer, those were of even more negligible value, the Netanyahus reportedly told police.

Singer Mariah Carey strolls hand-in-hand with her significant other, Australian businessman James Packer, in Capri, Italy, in June 2015. (screen capture: YouTube)
Singer Mariah Carey strolls hand-in-hand with her significant other, Australian businessman James Packer, in Capri, Italy, in June 2015. (screen capture: YouTube)

All this, they said, explains why the various presents were not reported to the authorities.

Citing legal sources, Channel 2 said this strand of the corruption probe against Benjamin Netanyahu is “very likely” to lead to an indictment. There was no confirmation of this.

It said that the attorney-general knows that, if he closes the case, Israel’s Supreme Court “will reopen it,” for fear of otherwise legitimizing a climate in which taking luxury goods, with possible conflict of interest and other corrupt implications, would be rife.

The cigars-and-champagne investigation, known as Case 1000, reportedly revolves around gifts the Netanyahus received from Milchan, Packer and possibly other businessmen.

Benjamin Netanyahu has been questioned under caution by police twice over the case as well as over a second affair, Case 2000, into an alleged quid pro quo deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes.

Police are inclined to recommend indicting Netanyahu in both cases, Channel 10 news reported Friday night. It quoted a senior police source adding, however, that the investigations were still ongoing. Mozes is to be questioned again early next week, it said, and Netanyahu is then likely to be questioned a third time.

Police seized receipts for gifts worth up to NIS 400,000 ($104,000) given to Netanyahu by Milchan, a well-known Hollywood figure, during a raid on his Ramat Gan offices, Channel 10 news reported earlier this week.

Last week, Channel 2 news reported that Milchan was one of up to four businessmen eyed as suspected benefactors of the Netanyahus.

The TV station has also reported that Netanyahu 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 United States. The visa was granted.

On Sunday, Channel 10 said that in addition to Milchan, Australian billionaire Packer paid for meals for the Netanyahus at their private residence in Caesarea, as well as cigars and champagne. Packer and Milchan are friends and have mutual business interests.

The Netanyahus’ son Yair is reportedly to be summoned by police for questioning by the police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit in the coming days as part of the two ongoing criminal investigations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife, Sara Netanyahu, together with their son Yair at a Hannukah event, on December 13, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, together with their son Yair at a Hannukah event, on December 13, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The questioning of Yair is likely to focus on Case 1000, which reportedly also includes allegations that hotel rooms for Yair were paid for by billionaire benefactors.

Yair Netanyahu has also been linked to Case 2000: Negotiations between Benjamin Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Noni Mozes, — which allegedly centered on the prime minister promising to advance legislation to hobble the Israel Hayom daily if competing paper Yedioth Ahronoth gave him more favorable coverage — are said to have begun over the prime minister’s efforts to prevent the publication of a story about Yair.

The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyer has insisted Netanyahu has done nothing illegal.

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