Hollywood Producer Arnon Milchan’s Testimony Tightened Bribery Case Against Netanyahu, Police Say

Prospects for indictment of Netanyahu looked strong before, but billionaire's recent testimony to Israeli investigators in London only reinforced that view

Israeli-American movie producer Arnon Milchan (L) is flanked by then-Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he announces his donation of $100 million to establish a new Israeli university, at a press conference on March 28, 2005 in Jerusalem.
David Silverman/Getty Images

Testimony given by Hollywood producer and businessman Arnon Milchan this week has strengthened suspicions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took bribes from him, said senior law enforcement officials, who called Milchan’s information “extremely significant.”

Police will soon question Netanyahu under caution about these suspicions, police sources said on Wednesday.

Milchan was questioned in London this week in the “Case 1000” investigation, which concerns allegations that Netanyahu and his wife Sara systematically accepted gifts from benefactors.

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People close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspected, convicted, indicted, or questioned in varying criminal cases

This was the first time Milchan had been questioned as a criminal suspect in this case. He had given testimony to police in Israel last December, confirming that for years he gave the Netanyahus expensive gifts including boxes of cigars, bottles of Champagne and jewelry, at their request.

Senior police officers had concluded several weeks ago that they had enough material to recommend an indictment against Netanyahu, but Milchan’s recent questioning in London reinforced that view substantially.

Milchan told police investigators that the gifts were not bribery. While he confirmed the gifts had systematically been given to the prime minister and on his request, they were not made with the intention of getting something immediate in exchange.

The investigators got the impression that Milchan was doing all he could to avoid bribery charges. This is why he said he offered to testify whenever he was asked about the gifts he gave Netanyahu.

Police pressing Milchan to cooperate

The police see tremendous value in Milchan’s cooperating with investigation, but they did not promise him immunity in return, law enforcement sources said.

Milchan also claimed that he was the one who had approached Netanyahu, both when he asked for assistance in arranging a visa and about selling Channel 10. But he said Netanyahu wasn’t the only one he approached, adding that he didn’t ever think Netanyahu would be the only person who would assist him.

The detectives asked Milchan if he had asked Netanyahu to promise – and if he received such a promise – to use his influence to have Milchan’s share in Channel 10 sold to businessman Len Blavatnik.

Police sources said Netanyahu had been expected to be questioned by police at least one more time, even before Milchan’s inquiry in London, but now “more questions, important, troubling ones, have been added.”

Discrepancies

In another development, Police Fraud Unit investigators discovered significant discrepancies between the statements made Prime Minister’s Office employees about Sara Netanyahu’s alleged wrongdoings in the couple’s residences. A police source described the discrepancies as “troubling.”

Recently, Yossi Cohen, attorney for the Netanyahu family, submitted a number of statements by Prime Minister’s Office employees that were intended to help Sara Netanyahu in the investigation, while at the same time to besmirch the Netanyahus’ former housekeeper Meni Naftali.

These employees were recently summoned by police to testify as witnesses, but the version they gave police differed from the one appearing in their statements.

A source in the Justice Ministry said on Wednesday that the discrepancies will be “examined thoroughly and then a decision will be made whether to investigate them. It’s problematic that the lawyer of the man in charge asks his subordinates to submit statements intended to help his interests, especially when the statements and testimonies aren’t identical. But the main thing now is to advance the case to its completion.”

As Haaretz reported on Tuesday, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is expected to notify Sara Netanyahu in a few weeks of his olans to indict her, subject to a hearing, on charges of fraudulently receiving items worth 400,000 shekels ($111,851).