Netanyahu Admits to Speaking With Prosecution Witness Milchan After Indictment Filed

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Israeli producer Arnon Milchan accepts an award at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, New York, November 28, 2016.
Israeli producer Arnon Milchan accepts an award at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, New York, November 28, 2016.Credit: Evan Agostini / AP
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Monday that he had spoke with a witness in Case 1000, one of the three corruption cases against him, Arnon Milchan, since the indictment against him had been filed.

"Once I congratulated him," Netanyahu said during an interview with Channel 12 news. "We're allowed to talk. What did I talk about? I said happy holiday, I don't remember which. Once or twice, I've already forgotten."

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Netanyahu denied that he had attempted to convey any sort of message to Milchan, saying, "no message, and no nothing, those are the terms of the case."

Milchan is at the heart of Case 1000, in which Netanyahu is accused of fraud and breach of trust over gifts he allegedly received from him.

Last year, Netanyahu’s people, who wanted to recruit a top-line lawyer for him, approached the experienced attorney Boaz Ben-Zur. However, Ben-Zur was faced with an obstacle: He represented two of the stars of Case 1000: Milchan and his assistant, Hadas Klein.

Netanyahu in court in Jerusalem on Monday with one of his lawyersCredit: ראובן קסטרו

The two testified that for years Milchan had agreed to Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu’s demands and had purchased for them about 700,000 shekels ($208,000) worth of cigars, champagne and jewelry. Milchan was also investigated on suspicion of having bribed the prime minister, but that case against him has been closed.

As reported in Haaretz over the weekend, Netanyahu called Milchan directly, after four years in which they hadn’t spoken, after the latter agreed to let Ben Zur defend Netanyahu in his trials.

Netanuayhu thanked Milchan warmly and said he loved him after Ben Zur got the green light to work for him. 

Milchan and Netanyahu severed relations in late 2016, when Milchan gave several statements to police in which he described at length how he provided the Netanyahus with a steady supply of high-quality cigars, champagne and jewelry – “gifts that I don’t bring voluntarily, but am asked to bring,” he said.

Yet three months later, when police investigators flew to Los Angeles to question him again, they noted that Milchan was trying to soften what he had told them in Israel. When the lead investigator, Chief Superintendent Momi Meshulam, reminded Milchan that he initially said the Netanyahus’ demands repulsed him, Milchan U-turned.

“I thought about it afterward, and it didn’t repulse me, these demands,” he said. “What repulsed me was the situation I was stuck in, where I was suddenly giving evidence about something that seemed completely marginal to me.”

Later, when Milchan was questioned as a suspected bribe-giver rather than a witness, he returned to his original story, which incriminated the prime minister. Police investigators who met with him at the Israeli Embassy in London said he was “boiling” and “feels betrayed.”

“This man destroyed my life,” Milchan told them. “Suddenly, you see he’s lying to you. He says it’s all legal, that he checked with the attorney general and friends are allowed to give gifts, except for homes. And suddenly I’m in the papers, and my children ... bodyguards. I’m deathly afraid.”

Netanyahu appeared in court last week, pleading not guilty to the charges against him. He confirmed the written answer his defense team submitted to the court on his behalf in January, arguing he was not guilty in all the charges against him.  

Ben Zur requested that the evidentiary phase be postponed by three or four months, so it would begin only after the March 23 election.

“The case is not ready for hearing,” said Ben Zur. 

The next stage of the prime minister's trial will set precise dates for the evidentiary hearings and for hearing witnesses.

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