Netanyahu Hearing, Day 3: Gifts From Tycoons and Favorable Press

The prime minister's pre-indictment hearing focused on Cases 1000 and 2000 – gifts in exchange for political favors, and legislation in exchange for favorable coverage

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the swearing-in of the Knesset, Jerusalem, October 3, 2019.
Ariel Schalit/ AP

The third day of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's pre-indictment hearing came to an end on Sunday night, and focused on Cases 1000 and 2000 – gifts in exchange for political favors, and legislation in exchange for favorable coverage, respectively.

On Sunday morning, the hearing on Case 4000, which deals with a supposed quid-pro-quo with media mogul Shaul Elovitch, wrapped up. Yosef Ashenazi, who presented Netanyahu's stance on the case, yielded the floor to attorney Amit Hadad, who is arguing Cases 1000, and Case 2000 on the prime minister's behalf.

>> Read more: 3 cases, 4 days and dozens of lawyers: Netanyahu's pre-indictment hearing begins ■ This is how Netanyahu's attorneys will try to save him from trial 

While leaving the hearing on Sunday night, Hadad expressed confidence that Netanyahu will not be charged: "We think that at the end of the day, we need to close these cases and we believe it'll be that way," he said.  

Case 1000 centers on suspicions that Netanyahu received lavish gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from tycoons, primarily Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. Milchan and his former business partner, Australian billionaire James Packer, are believed to have given Netanyahu and his wife boxes full of champagne bottles, cigars and other items, per the Netanyahus’ demands.

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The draft indictment says that “Netanyahu acted as part of his public positions in favor of Milchan, in numerous personal and business affairs, while he was in a grave conflict of interests between the common good and his personal commitment to Milchan.” 

Netanyahu’s main defense line in this case is his claim that “it’s permissible to receive presents from friends.” According to him, Milchan gave him the items due to their personal friendship and not because of the sway he holds as prime minister.

Netanyahu also claims that his late attorney, Jacob Wienroth, told him that there was no issue with him receiving such items. Netanyahu sought to minimize the affair further by saying that his wife may have asked Milchan to make some of the purchases without his knowledge. As for his involvement in issues pertaining to Milchan, Netanyahu claimed that his motives were always appropriate.

Case 2000, in which the prime minister is suspected of receiving favorable coverage in Yedioth Ahronoth for leglislation curbing the rival, Sheldon Adelson-owned Yisrael Hayom newspaper, was also discused Sunday. Sources who attended Sunday's hearing recounted that most of the discussion on the case revolved around the legal significance of allegations that the prime minister failed to report, or at least reject and put a halt to, a purported bribe offer from Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes, and whether that alone would justify a charge of breach of trust.

Hadad took the position that in the absence of evidence of Netanyahu's intent to follow through on such a bribery agreement, the prime minister could not be charged with breach of trust.

Some of the conversations between Netanyahu and Mozes were recorded, per the prime minister’s request, on the cellphone of then-bureau chief Ari Harow. Harow has since signed a state’s witness deal.

Netanyahu later approached ministers Ze’ev Elkin and Yariv Levin and asked them to inquire whether such legislation to benefit Yedioth could be promoted during an election. The charge sheet alleges that by negotiating with Mozes over legislation, Netanyahu exploited his position as prime minister. 

Netanyahu and Mozes both claimed that they didn’t plan on acting on the promises they made during the talks, and were only trying to manipulate each other. The premier also claimed that law enforcement shouldn’t get involved in the ties between public representatives and the media, and that the investigation reflects a bias on the part of police.

For its part, the prosecution argued that the scope of the acts that Netanyahu committed undermines any claim of lack of intent, and that putting himself in such a situation, even if he did not intend to bring it to fruition, is a violation of public trust and grounds for a criminal charge of breach of trust.

The hearing is expected to end on Monday, and the Justice Ministry is hoping not to extend it by another day.

On Wednesday and Thursday Netanyahu's attorneys presented their arguments regarding Case 4000.

Sources who were present at the first two days of the hearing said that the prime minister's attorneys had not presented any new evidence, but rather explanations that allegedly contradict the charge sheet against Netanyahu. The lawyers, however, expressed confidence that the attorney general will close Case 4000 after the hearing.

A member of the prosecution staff, Liat Ben-Ari, who heads the Tel Aviv district tax and economic division of the prosecutor's office, was expected to be absent from Sunday and Monday's hearings. According to Justice Ministry sources, she had vacation plans that had been scheduled before Netanyahu's lawyers asked that the pre-indictment hearings be extended into this week.