Gifts Case Grows Stronger; Netanyahu Claims Relative Gave Him Cash to Buy Cigars

Suspects in high places often depend on a stash of cash to talk their way out of graft allegations; his lawyer testified that he gave Netanyahy green light to accept gifts from friends.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses an audience at Arnon Milchan's Los Angeles home, 2014.
Avi Ohayon, GOP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he bought cigars himself and paid for them with cash he had received from a relative, Haaretz has learned. Sources said this week that Case 1000, as police have dubbed their investigation into allegations that Netanyahu illegally received gifts and other benefits from wealthy businessmen, is growing stronger.

Suspects in high places often depend on a stash of cash to help them talk their way out of allegations of acquiring unlawful gifts or perks, since it’s extremely difficult to identify the source of cash. In a world where cash is used less and less by ordinary people, such suspects seem to have liberal amounts of it donated by admiring friends or obscure relatives, which they say they used to pay for their luxury extras.

Netanyahu’s line of defense in the case of receiving benefits systematically from moguls — especially from billionaire Arnon Milchan — is multilayered. One of the intriguing ones regards the identity of the buyer and the manner of purchase.

“I bought myself boxes of cigars for cash,” Netanyahu said. He utterly denied, when questioned by the police, the investigators’ narrative that he received a steady supply of cigar boxes every two weeks at the cost of thousands of shekels a box. The cigar deliveries continued over the years, reaching a total of hundreds of thousands of shekels.

Netanyahu argued that he had paid personally for a considerable part of the cigars he smoked. According to his version, he would have aides purchase the cigars and reimburse them later, in cash.

Where did the cash come from, the investigators surely wondered. Netanyahu had an explanation: A relative gave him cash over a period of several years to help him pay for his expensive smoking hobby. At the same time, Netanyahu isn’t denying that he received cigars from Milchan from time to time. But he said this was not improper, but gifts that were given as part of the long friendship between the families.

When questioned by the police and in conversations with political figures, Netanyahu argues that he had legal approval to receive the gifts in question. Haaretz has found that lawyer Jacob Weinroth testified a few weeks ago to the police and confirmed that he had advised Netanyahu on this matter and gave him a green light to receive gifts for reasonable sums of money from true friends.

There are indications that the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, is also being used as a “human shield” in the effort to avoid indictment. As Amit Segal reported this week on Channel 2 News, Netanyahu said in his investigation that many of the expensive gifts were delivered to the residence at the wife’s initiative, without his knowledge.

The deeper the investigation, the more Netanyahu and his people will probably expand Sara’s role, until she becomes the star in the affair.

Despite these explanations, sources familiar with the investigation said this week the case against Netanyahu regarding the gifts is getting stronger and that the police will recommend indicting him.

The Netanyahus, their son and actress Kate Hudson at the home of Arnon Milchan in 2014.
Avi Ohayon/GPO

Milchan’s staff, from his assistant in Israel to the drivers that delivered the perks to Netanyahu, added their testimonies to Milchan’s. According to their statements, the benefits were delivered as part of a fixed pattern, by demand and with codes.

The police has seized receipts and correspondence corroborating the testimonies of Milchan and members of his staff.

Netanyahu’s version, that he used to pay for the cigars thousands of shekels in cash he had received from a family relative is hard to verify.

The prime minister is suspected to have acted for Milchan in his capacity as prime minister when he called the U.S. secretary of state and asked him to arrange the billionaire’s visa.

In the investigation dubbed Case 2000, which is seen as the more significant of the two, Netanyahu is suspected of agreeing to receive various benefits from Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes. The benefits included regular positive coverage, planting journalists of his choice in the newspaper and intercepting negative reports.

In exchange Netanyahu promised Mozes he would muster the political power at his disposal to pass a Knesset law compelling Israel Hayom to charge a payment for its newspaper editions. This would have weakened the newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson and reinstated Yedioth Ahronoth to its leading role.

Netanyahu’s defense line in this affair sounds like this: I had no intention of passing that law; Mozes and I were making a fool of each other and neither of us intended to keep the promises we made to each other.

This line of defense could run into a snag, if only because Netanyahu and Mozes held many long meetings, only some of which — more than six hours — were recorded. The prolonged dialog gave those who heard the recordings the impression that the two men were serious and both had a strong desire to receive what they had to offer each other.

Indeed, during those meetings Netanyahu was more cautious and restrained than Mozes, who sounded more eager. But he emphasized to Mozes that the legislation the latter desired was the right thing to do and promised to make it happen after the elections. Even if Netanyahu was fooling Mozes, as he maintains, in order to get a temporary respite in Yedioth Ahronoth’s media artillery against him, it means he agreed to receive all the favors Mozes promised him at a critical period in the election campaign.

A public figure is expected to throw a businessman who offers him huge benefits out of the door and to report him to the authorities. A few years ago, before he was elected prime minister for the second time, Netanyahu discreetly met two fraud investigators at his parents’ home on Jerusalem’s Haportzim Street.

Netanyahu told the investigators, at his own initiative, that a certain businessman had offered him a benefit. He refused to name the man and the meeting ended with nothing. Still, this story indicates that Netanyahu’s sharp senses told him to turn down an offer that an elected official must refuse, and also to notify the law authorities.

The investigation of the explosive dialog between Netanyahu and Mozes already had a positive impact on the freedom of the press. The censorship has been lifted from Walla news site, which was controlled by the Bezeq group and served as the prime minister and his wife’s mouthpiece.

The prime minister’s aides said “all his moves were made strictly according to the law. Your relentless claims are without any factual and legal basis and intended to exert improper pressure on the law enforcement authorities.”