Lapid: False testimony is a crime; I don't smoke

PM said to tell police Milchan handed out ‘tons’ of cigars, ‘sea’ of champagne

According to leaked transcript from graft probe, Netanyahu tells interrogator that billionaire benefactor gave gifts to many politicians, including Shimon Peres and Yair Lapid

Arnon Milchan (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in the Knesset, on March 28, 2005. (Flash90/ File)
Arnon Milchan (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in the Knesset, on March 28, 2005. (Flash90/ File)

In a leaked transcript of a police interrogation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the premier tried to explain gifts he received from a billionaire acquaintance by saying that the Hollywood mogul regularly handed out “a sea” of champagne and “tons” of cigars to many Israeli politicians, including former president Shimon Peres and lawmaker MK Yair Lapid.

According to Channel 12, which revealed the transcripts Tuesday, they came from the case 1000 investigation in which Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit charges that film producer Arnon Milchan gave Netanyahu and his wife gifts amounting to NIS 701,146 ($195,000), mostly cigars and champagne, in exchange for favors.

The transcript features then-head of the National Police Unit for Financial Crimes, Coresh Barnoor, questioning the prime minister about how much he received from Milchan.

“He gave Peres a sea of champagne,” Netanyahu said of the Israeli statesman who died in 2016. “You are dumping on me all the receipts of Arnon Milchan, who also bought tons of cigars for others.”

Netanyahu described Milchan as a “roving kiosk” for cigars and champagne and claimed the movie mogul told him he gifted cigars to Lapid. The prime minister told investigators Milchan also gave items to former Knesset members Tzipi Livi and Isaac Herzog, who is now chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

A statement on behalf of Lapid denied he received cigars and noted that he gave up smoking before entering politics.

“Bibi needs to know that false testimony to the police is also a crime,” the statement said using Netanyahu’s nickname. “Lapid never got anything from Milchan. The lie of receiving cigars from Milchan is particularly absurd because Lapid stopped smoking long before he went into politics.”

Producer Arnon Milchan in 2016 (left) and Knesset member Yair Lapid in 2018 (composite photo: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP; Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A statement on behalf of Netanyahu said “the distorted and warped reports that you (channel 12) give, including this evening, are far from reality and are intended to harm Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the midst of an election campaign.”

Part of the transcript also dealt with Netanyahu’s responses to questions from investigators over earlier testimony that he would buy his own cigars, saying he would send out his various drivers to buy cigars on his behalf. Barnoor told Netanyahu police had spoken to seven drivers and only one of them said he ever purchased cigars on behalf of the prime minister.

Netanyahu’s statement responding to the report noted that the same driver also testified that he was given cash by the prime minister to buy the cigars, and, if he ever paid from his own pocket he was reimbursed.

Milchan is a central figure in Case 1000, one of three corruption cases in which Netanyahu faces criminal charges, pending a hearing.

According to police recommendations to indict Netanyahu in the case, presented to Mandelblit in February 2018, the prime minister is “suspected of working to advance a business project that Milchan had a direct interest in being approved as part of his partnership with Indian businessman Ratan Tata.”

Last week Channel 12 reported a key witness in the case told investigators that the current head of the Mossad intelligence agency bought nearly NIS 2,000 ($561) worth of cigars for Netanyahu while serving as national security adviser, and was never paid back.

Mossad director Yossi Cohen and the prime minister both swiftly rejected the claim after the station reported on the testimony given by Hadas Klein, who served as a personal assistant to Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer, another alleged benefactor to Netanyahu.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000. He also faces those charges in a pair of other investigations known as cases 2000 and 4000. The attorney general has also recommended Netanyahu be charged with bribery in Case 4000.

Mandelblit has said he intends to indict Netanyahu, pending a hearing, for fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and for separate fraud and breach of trust charges in two other criminal probes — Case 2000 and Case 4000, the later of which also holds a bribery charge for the prime minister. Milchan has not been charged.

Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing with Mandelblit is scheduled for October 2-3, after the attorney general declined last month to delay it due to the September 17 elections.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in all cases and says he is the victim of a political witch hunt.

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