Milchan: Netanyahus Demanded The Cigars and Champagne; Used Code Words to Order

Cigar boxes were called 'leaves' and champagne bottles 'pinks.' Milchan told police Netanyahu and wife demanded perks from him.

Cartoon showing Netanyahu and wife Sara receiving a truckload of cigars and champagne. "You shouldn't have," Netanyahu exclaims.
A special delivery? Amos Biderman

Code words are popular in criminal cases, whether the suspects are underworld figures or business executives. “Water the plants,” a businessman at the center of an investigation into share manipulations allegedly would say as a signal to his interlocutor to send new instructions to his broker.

When figures in the Yisrael Beiteinu corruption case sought to covertly mention to the transfer of large amounts of public founds to macherim and government officials, they spoke of “boxes of dates.” Some of these figures referred to then-Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (who was not a suspect in that case) as “the boss” or “the director” rather than using his name.

“The black” was the politically incorrect nickname that suspects used in conversation to obscure the identity of then-Israel Tax Authority chief Jackie Matza.

The investigation of graft allegations concerning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has turned up its own code words. According to evidence collected in the case, “pinks” was the word used by residents of the Prime Minister’s Residence as a signal to replenish their supply of bottles of pink champagne, allegedly provided by the billionaire businessman Arnon Milchan. “Leaves” was reportedly code for the fancy cigars that Milchan is thought to have sent to Netanyahu every two weeks.

Arnon Milchan and Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in 2005.
David Silverman/Getty Images

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The use of code words in these contexts generally shows an attempt at camouflage, based on an intuitive understanding of the need to restrict knowledge to a limited number of people. That seems to be the case here.

As Haaretz has revealed, the police suspect that over a period of years, Milchan gave Netanyahu gifts and other favors valued at hundreds of thousands of shekels. Receipts and credit-card records suggest a pattern of regular purchases.

These details were not kept specifically by Milchan but were discovered as part of the police investigation. Employees of Milchan have also been questioned in connection to the purchase of items and delivery to the Netanyahus.

Milchan’s statements to police are thought to be the turning point in the affair.

Information obtained by Haaretz shows that Milchan said that in most cases the gifts were not given of his own accord, but that the Netanyahu couple demanded them from him. Even before this development, intelligence information showed a pattern in which tycoons were asked to purchase expensive items for Netanyahu but the evidence was based on testimony taken and confiscation of evidence on the Milchan-Netanyahu axis.

Milchan told friends he didn’t expect to receive any government reward for the gifts he provided. An acquaintance of Milchan believes it was important for Milchan to be close to the country’s decision-making centers and that he would not have refused any request by Netanyahu.

“He already made his fortune,” the friend said, referring to Milchan. Milchan has declined requests for comment since his name was published in Haaretz in connection to the investigation.

In August 2015 Haaretz reported that over the course of a few weeks Netanyahu visited Milchan’s home four times. In one of the meetings, opposition leader Isaac Herzog also was present. Herzog’s office has said that many people attended the gathering, but security cameras did not capture the arrival of any other guests.

Milchan was mentioned as having between Netanyahu and Herzog with the aim of establishing a unity government. Milchan, who has produced movies including “Pretty Woman,” maintained contacts for years with Israeli establishment figures, and his friends have included the late former President Shimon Peres and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, a former director of a Milchan-owned company. According to media reports, Milchan once served as an agent for the Defense Ministry’s scientific liaison unit and helped in the purchase of equipment for Israel’s nuclear program. He owns stock in Israel Channel 10 television.

Netanyahu himself has said about the suspicions: “All the so-called affairs have turned out to be baseless, and the same will be true of the claims being published now by the media. We repeat, there won’t be anything because there isn’t anything.”

Netanyahu attorney Jacob Weinroth, said in the past that Netanyahu had once asked him for an opinion on the receipt of gifts from close friends. “There is no ban on receiving cigars as a gift,” Weinroth added.

Some of Netanyahu’s confidants are surprised by what has come to light until now in the Netanyahu-Milchan affair. They find it hard to believe that an intelligent and basically cautious person like Netanyahu complicated himself again in an event of this type. One of them expressed the hope that at the end of the investigation it will turn out anyway that Netanyahu played a minor role in the plot.