Netanyahu trial: Milchan gifts to prime minister 'motivated by close friendship'

The businessman had said during the previous three days of testimony that he was a close friend of Netanyahu, and had given the prime minister's family cigars, shirts, and champagne.

  Arnon Milchan seen at the Brighton, UK courthouse through a camera monitor at Benjamin Netanyahu's criminal trials on June 28, 2023 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Arnon Milchan seen at the Brighton, UK courthouse through a camera monitor at Benjamin Netanyahu's criminal trials on June 28, 2023

Film producer Arnon Milchan was a close friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s even before he was prime minister and had given him gifts prior to his rise to power, Milchan testified yesterday in Netanyahu’s Case 1000 corruption trial at a UK courthouse. Defense attorney Amit Haddad attempted to show that Milchan had honest motives for giving Netanyahu expensive gifts.

“You gave him champagne and cigars when he was a civilian, and then asked if it was acceptable to continue when he was prime minister?” asked Haddad, to which Milchan replied was correct.

While the prosecution had attempted in the last three days of Milchan’s testimony to cast the gifts he gave to the prime minister as being in return for business and personal favors, Haddad attempted to demonstrate how close the two were, their friendship being the true motivation. The gifts, he contended, were given without expecting anything in return.

Milchan confirmed Haddad’s framing that he and Netanyahu were “like family” and had developed a close bond before he had become Israel’s leader. Milchan said that they often spoke about private issues, and had a shared intellectual curiosity that saw them discussing philosophy and history.

Haddad noted that at the prime minister’s 60th birthday, very few people had been invited besides immediate family, and Milchan was one of them. It was also noted that Netanyahu’s first letter as prime minister was to Milchan.

“How does one express gratitude for boundless friendship? For me, my family and for our country, you were like a rock in a storm,” read the letter addressed “my dear brother.”

Arnon Milchan's role in Benjamin Netanyahu's criminal trial

While Netanyahu had been accused of helping Milchan with his US visa issues in the past in return for the gifts, the businessman told Haddad on Wednesday that neither the prime minister or anyone in the American government did anything to help him. Haddad also remarked to Milchan that it was possible that he mentioned the visa to Netanyahu because they spoke often about many issues in their lives. Milchan said that it was possible.

Haddad asked Milchan about a project with an Indian billionaire that he had promoted to Netanyahu and former president Shimon Peres, that would foster bonds of economic peace between Israel and Palestinians by providing jobs to Palestinians.

Milchan confirmed to Haddad that he had never spoken to the Israeli leaders about his financial interests in the venture, and that his objective was the promotion of peace.

Wednesday marked the first full day of cross-examination of Milchan by the defense. The hearing saw heated exchanges between the defense and prosecution, which exploded near the end of the day, when one of the prosecutors said that someone was whispering to Milchan during the proceedings.

“This is a huge lie!” One of the defense members shouted repeatedly.

Order was returned to the court when the judges threatened to hold the rest of the hearings in Israel if they continued to conduct themselves in such a manner.

The businessman had said during the previous three days of testimony that he had given the prime minister’s family cigars, shirts, and champagne worth tens of thousands of shekels. Milchan said he had given a free hand to his personal assistant to give the Netanyahus what they wanted and needed.

He said that he didn’t think that the gifts were illegal, but also that the two had code names for different gifts.  Milchan is also alleged by the prosecution to have lobbied Netanyahu for a tax exemption law extension that would benefit him.

The witness explained on Tuesday that he had been involved in peace talks between the Yediot Aharonot and Yisrael Hayom newspapers at the prime minister’s request. The family was vulnerable to criticism, said Milchan, and sought to decrease Yediot’s hostility.

When the rivalry could not be calmed, Milchan said that he had explored the sale of Yediot, but all the offers fell through. Under Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of meeting Yediot publisher Arnon Mozes to discuss advancing a law to handicap his news rival in return for positive coverage.

As with the previous days, Milchan’s testimony was broadcast to screens in the Jerusalem District Courthouse. Milchan had said that he was too ill to travel to Israel, leading the court to permit the remote testimony.

The prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, who had been present at all of Milchan’s court appearances, could be seen chatting with and embracing Milchan just before the session began. Netanyahu was in a less genial mood as he left the courtroom early on Wednesday afternoon, giving yet another dramatic shake of the head to the media.

Regarding Netanyahu’s Case 4000 corruption trial, the State Attorney’s Office said on Wednesday that it is not against the publication of the summaries of meetings with the judges, defense, and prosecution.

The move comes after a Thursday leak of the meeting in which it was alleged that the Case 4000 bribery charge would be difficult to prove. The sessions from next Monday onward are to be publicized.