I routinely gave Netanyahu [tens of thousands of dollars’ worth] gifts, Hollywood producer [and MOSSAD agent] Arnon Milchan tells Israeli court

AP  /  June 25, 2023 

Arnon Milchan begins testimony via video link in Israeli Prime Minister’s corruption trial.

An Israeli producer of blockbuster Hollywood films has taken the stand in Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, describing how he routinely delivered tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of champagne, cigars and other gifts requested by the Israeli prime minister.

Arnon Milchan, who appeared by video-conference from the UK city of Brighton, near where he is based, is a key witness whose testimony is essential for prosecutors who are trying to prove that Netanyahu committed fraud and breach of trust in one of three cases brought against him.

Prosecutors hope Milchan’s testimony, which began on Sunday and is expected to run through this week and next, will paint a picture of plush favours granted to Netanyahu and his wife that allegedly spurred him to use his position of power to advance Milchan’s interests. The defence will try to lay out its case that Netanyahu was not acting in Milchan’s personal interests and that the gifts were just friendly gestures.

Prosecution and defence lawyers are questioning Milchan in a hotel conference room in Brighton. No journalists are allowed to be present, but Netanyahu’s wife Sara, who is on a private visit to Britain, will sit in.

Milchan’s testimony, which is expected to last six hours a day, is being aired in a Jerusalem courtroom for judges and other lawyers, who can also ask questions of him, and for journalists and other attendees to watch.

Netanyahu, who has attended some of the hearings during his trial, arrived at the courtroom shortly after Milchan’s testimony began, flanked by his security detail and aides. Milchan, who is not charged in the case, greeted him in Hebrew using Netanyahu’s nickname: “Shalom, Bibi.”

According to the indictment, Milchan, whose production credits include hits such as Pretty Woman and 12 Years a Slave, gave Netanyahu and his wife boxes of cigars and crates of champagne over a period of several years. Along with jewellery, they amounted to a value of nearly $200,000 (£160,000), what the indictment describes as a “supply line” of lavish gifts.

It accuses Netanyahu of using his influential position to assist Milchan in securing a US visa extension by drawing on his diplomatic contacts, among them the former secretary of state John Kerry. Prosecutors also accuse Netanyahu of pushing legislation that would have granted Milchan millions in tax breaks.

“Considering the many links between the defendant Netanyahu and Milchan, the defendant Netanyahu should have entirely avoided dealing with Milchan’s affairs,” the indictment says, adding that the two men have had ties since 1999.

Milchan is testifying in one of three cases being brought against Netanyahu. The other two, for which he is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, accuse him of exchanging regulatory favours with powerful media moguls for more positive coverage.

Netanyahu denies wrongdoing, claiming he is the victim of a witch hunt orchestrated by a liberal media and a biased justice system.

The prime minister’s legal woes have dogged him politically, putting his fitness to rule while on trial at the centre of a political crisis that sent Israelis to the polls five times in under four years.

They also have fuelled accusations by critics that he is pushing a contentious government plan to overhaul Israel’s judiciary as a way to escape the charges. He also denies those accusations.

The trial, which began in 2020 and has still not heard from Netanyahu himself, has featured more than 40 prosecution witnesses, including some of his closest former confidants who turned against him.

Witness accounts have not only shed light on the three cases but also Netanyahu’s character and his family’s reputation for living off the largesse of taxpayers and wealthy supporters. Milchan’s aide, Hadas Klein, testified last year that the family “loves gifts”.

The idea of a plea bargain has repeatedly surfaced, but prosecutors for now appear determined to see the trial through, despite reports last week that the judges had warned them that the more serious crime of bribery would be hard to prove.