Two businessmen who sold a mix of expensive cigars and champagne to tycoon friends of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his benefit testified before the Jerusalem District Court on Monday in Case 1000 the Illegal Gifts Affair.
The two men, Amit Barzilai, owner of Wine Ways, and David Bavli, owner of the Y.D. Business, sold the now infamous cigars and champagne to Arnon Milchin and James Packer, who then provided them to Netanyahu.
According to the prosecution, Netanyahu’s acceptance of these expensive gifts was a breach of public trust, and some of the prosecution team had even wanted a bribery charge, especially because Netanyahu at least tried to assist Milchin in various business pursuits.
For his part, Netanyahu has said the gifts were given out of friendship and denies criminal wrongdoing.
Netanyahu allegedly received from billionaire Milchin NIS 267,254 in cigars, NIS 184,448 worth of champagne and NIS 10,900 to Sara Netanyahu for jewelry from 2011 to 2016.
He and his family also received another NIS 229,174 in champagne and cigars from Milchin associate, billionaire Packer, between 2014 and 2016.
Barzilai and Bavli’s testimony for the prosecution was mostly technical.
They confirmed that the receipts for the cigars and champagne which are part of the above totals assembled by the prosecution were accurate and how the numbers were arrived at.
Barzilai added that he had given Milchin and Packer discounts because they placed such unusually large orders.
Further, he testified that there were a few rare instances where he personally delivered the products, though as a business owner, this was a rare thing for him to do.
Moreover, Barzilai was very well acquainted with Milchin’s chief aide and key prosecution witness, Hadas Klien, as well as Milchin’s driver, Yonatan Hasson, referring to them with the familiarity of first names, as opposed to a more formal business-like reference to their last names.
Netanyahu's defense lawyer Amit Hadad tried to use their testimony as an opportunity to emphasize potential contradictions with allegations Klien made against Netanyahu.
Whereas Klien said that there was a clear delineation between which products were bought for Milchim himself and which for Netanyahu by Milchin, Hadad showed that the receipts showed no such distinctions.
In fact, Hadad showed that sometimes the volume of products referenced in the receipts would have been difficult to clearly divide up.
In addition, Hadad tried to highlight where the volume of products being purchased on the receipts did not seem to match up exactly with Klien’s memory of what was purchased.
Also, Hadad noted that Milchin bought significant amounts of white wine and other products which clearly had nothing to do with Netanyahu.
Hadad argued that this showed that discounts and other special treatment given to Milchin were for him as a customer who bought a wide assortment of products far beyond whatever he purchased for Netanyahu.
Next, he said that Milchin’s purchasing of such expensive items was part of a culture of his own enjoyment of these products and giving gifts to a range of powerful friends, of which Netanyahu was only one.
The defense previously made these points to Klien, who admitted that Milchin gave expensive gifts to others besides Netanyahu.
However, she also said that the volume of gifts to Netanyahu was without comparison and the idea that Milchin brought Packer in to help with the cost showed that he felt coerced into giving the expensive items.
The trial was on pause for the court’s summer recess from mid-July to early September and has held only a few hearings over the last month due to the Jewish holidays and other scheduling conflicts.
It is due to resume on October 24 after the last of the fall holidays have concluded.