Prosecutors on Monday told the Jerusalem District Court that a witness in one of the corruption cases against opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu had provided new evidence regarding further expensive gifts that the former prime minister’s family allegedly received illicitly from wealthy benefactors, in a development that could possibly delay the testimony of a key witness.
The new information — reported by Hebrew media and related to a case in which Netanyahu is currently accused of receiving illicit gifts totaling some $200,000 from wealthy benefactors — alleges that in addition to the currently known goods, Netanyahu also received three bracelets for his wife Sara at her request, one of them worth $45,000, as well as luxury bags and clothing items for her.
The details were published a day before a key witness, former Netanyahu aide and confidant Nir Hefetz, was slated to begin testifying at the Jerusalem District Court. Netanyahu himself is expected to attend the hearing for just the third time throughout the trial, which began 1.5 years ago.
But following the new revelations — details of which were widely published by Hebrew media — Netanyahu’s defense team requested that Hefetz’s testimony be postponed by a week, in order for them to have time to receive and review the new material. The court was set to discuss the request on Tuesday, and was said to be preparing for Netanyahu and Hefetz’s arrival.
Hefetz, now a state’s witness, will provide testimony in Case 4000 — the most serious of the three cases against the former premier. Netanyahu, who is charged with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in this case, says all the cases against him were fabricated by the police and prosecution, and denies any wrongdoing.
Netanyahu also faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000. The new revelations relate to Case 1000, which involves suspicions that Netanyahu illicitly accepted gifts such as cigars and champagne from two billionaires — Hollywood-based Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian magnate James Packer.
The fresh evidence provided last month by Hadas Klein, an aide and adviser to Milchan, prompted Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to approve further investigation activities, some of which were carried out abroad.
A gag order had been placed on the developments to prevent the follow-up investigation from being compromised, prosecutors told the court on Monday.
They told the court that although the new evidence does not relate directly to Hefetz’s testimony, they do not object to delaying the start of his trial appearance. They said that the time constraints of the recent investigation, which was not completed until Monday morning, meant they had been unable to provide the defense with the material. If the testimony is indeed delayed, Hefetz would instead begin his testimony next Monday, November 22.
Netanyahu’s legal team asked the court to immediately order a probe into leaks to the media of details about Klein’s new evidence.
“This is a serious leak of investigation material that is not in the hands of the defense,” Netanyahu’s attorneys said in a statement. “Therefore, it is clear that the source of the leak is with the prosecutors or one of their witnesses.”
According to Hebrew media reports, Klein told investigators on October 24 that Milchan and Packer jointly bought jewelry and bags for Netanyahu’s wife that were worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.
Klein reportedly described how Milchan and Packer gave Sara Netanyahu, the former premier’s wife, three bracelets, one of which was worth some $45,000. Klein said the jewelry and bags were given to Netanyahu, at her request, to mark a personal event.
Channel 12 reported that Klein was adamant the ex-PM knew about the gifts for his wife; Klein, it said, testified that Sara told her that her husband had not liked the costly bracelet.
Channel 13 news reported that Klein also mentioned luxury shirts and a woolen coat that were also bought for Sara Netanyahu.
Klein was also asked why she had not mentioned the items in the past, the Haaretz daily reported, citing a source familiar with the events. Klein told investigators that when she initially gave evidence her attorney at the time, her then-lawyer Boaz Ben Tzur, who is now part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense team, told her to only give answers to direct questions and not to offer any information of her own accord. She said that during the course of trial proceedings, she was reminded of the items.
Mandelblit is to decide in the coming days whether to update the indictment against Netanyahu in Case 1000, the Kan public broadcaster reported. Such a move would then require further questioning of the former prime minister, so that he could give his version of events, the report said.
A statement on behalf of the Netanyahu family said that “the details that were given relating to Mrs. Sara Netanyahu are not correct. The timing of the publication today is not accidental, and testifies to the hardship of the prosecution and the weakness of the cases.”
In earlier testimony in 2017, Klein is said to have described the specific arrangements for the deliveries of high-end cigars and champagne, according to Hebrew media reports at the time.
On Sunday, Channel 12 news broadcast recordings of conversations that Hefetz had with Netanyahu, his wife and his son Yair.
Hefetz made thousands of recordings of conversations during his years working with the Netanyahus and they are to be a key element of his evidence in Case 4000, which involves an alleged bribery deal for regulatory benefits to the Bezeq telecom firm in exchange for more positive media coverage of the Netanyahus in the Bezeq-owned Walla news website.
According to Sunday’s report, the recordings show how close Hefetz was to the Netanyahus, and their alleged obsession with their media image.
In one of the recordings aired by the network, Sara Netanyahu is heard telling Hefetz that there were “mutual gifts” between the Netanyahus and the Milchans. Sara went on to explain that she would buy books and other toys for the Milchan children.
Sara Netanyahu also told Hefetz that she bought Milchan’s wife a gold chain and crystal candlesticks.
“I don’t know how much it cost,” she said and stressed: “Not pennies. I can’t say there were gifts for thousands of shekels… but certainly beautiful gifts. Certainly relative to our modest wages.”
In another, Hefetz is heard discussing with then-prime minister Netanyahu an audiotape that emerged in 2018 of Sara screaming at an adviser in 2009 over a publication she viewed as unflattering.
“How does it sound?” Netanyahu is heard saying.
“It doesn’t sound so good, she is really screaming,” Hefetz responded.
More of the recordings appeared to show the prime minister’s wife instructing Hefetz to act against her husband’s political opponents, at a time when Hefetz had already been appointed head of the National Information Directorate, the report said.
In one call, Netanyahu’s son, Yair, spoke to Hefetz about then-economy minister Naftali Bennett — the current prime minister — after Sara Netanyahu complained that Netanyahu’s Likud party had shared a social media post from Bennett, which she saw as a boost to the latter’s political standing even though he was a political rival.
“You know that Bennett is her a sensitive point,” Yair Netanyahu told Hefetz.
“Yes, Bennett and also Ayelet [Shaked],” Hefetz responded, referring to Bennett’s No. 2 in the Yamina party.
A statement on behalf of Netanyahu in response to that report said that “as expected, we have returned to the period of selective coverage, which [typically] begins with loud trumpeting and ends with a small weak voice.”
In Case 4000, Netanyahu is alleged to have worked to illicitly and lucratively benefit the business interests of Bezeq’s controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, in exchange for positive coverage on the Elovitch-owned Walla news website. Netanyahu is accused of abusing his powers when he served as both prime minister and communications minister from 2014 to 2017.
Hefetz turned state’s witness after being arrested and questioned over a two-week period, and is believed to have provided prosecutors with key information as an interlocutor between Netanyahu and Bezeq’s Elovitch.
Earlier this month, details were leaked to Channel 13 of a meeting between Hefetz and state prosecutors to prepare for his testimony.
Based on the information received by the network, Hefetz in his testimony is expected to highlight the family’s “obsession” with the media, particularly the Walla news site, at the center of Case 4000. Spokespeople were made aware that part of their job was to “correct the historical injustice done to Sara Netanyahu as a result of her husband’s public role,” Hefetz told prosecutors.
In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of attempting to reach a quid pro quo with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes for positive media coverage in exchange for legislation weakening rival newspaper Israel Hayom. Mozes is charged with bribery in the case.
The evidentiary phase of Netanyahu’s trial opened in April and has so far heard testimony from senior executives at the Walla website.