An accountant and key deal-maker for one of Benjamin Netanyahu’s tycoon friends testified on Monday that former Prime Minister's Office director-general Eyal Gabai was concerned that a transaction they were all discussing could lead to jail time.
Testifying before the Jerusalem District Court regarding Case 1000 of the prime minister designee’s public corruption trial, Zeev Feldman gave the background to a complex joint venture that Arnon Milchan was considering along with an Indian magnate through a joint Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian industrial zone.
Feldman explained that the concept was to manufacture different kinds of vehicles and buses to sell them to neighboring Arab countries.
Indian magnate Ratan Tata was slated to be a key investor along with Milchan; Feldman was involved in developing Netanyahu’s support for the idea.
In addition, Netanyahu also allegedly summoned IDF Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot to provide Milchan with a military helicopter to fly to Jordan for the deal.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II was also excited by the prospect of the deal.
Netanyahu’s lawyers have told The Jerusalem Post that this was for Tata to advance deals with Jordan, not for Milchan.
But the prosecution had previously said Netanyahu also met with Feldman, to ensure that the business plans were to benefit Milchan, something which Feldman confirmed in broad terms on Monday.
At a certain point, Gabai weighed in to try to neutralize the initiative, saying that in order for the deal to be legal, a wide variety of new legislation would need to be passed.
Gabai did not think the legislation was realistic and let it be known that he would have nothing to do with the deal as the law currently stood, as he had no interest in going to jail.
The deal eventually fell through due to a mix of regulatory issues and business issues once the Arab Spring shook the region, upsetting the likelihood of being able to sell the vehicles to the neighboring Arab countries.
All of this was only one example where Feldman was involved in a potential deal for Milchan, regarding which the prosecution said that it was illegal for Netanyahu to assist since the then-prime minister was also accepting huge volumes of expensive gifts from the tycoon.
What is the Illegal Gifts Affair Case?
The Illegal Gifts Affair Case 1000 revolves around allegations that Netanyahu illegally received gifts from Milchan and the prime minister’s defense that these were gifts between friends and violated no law.
From 2011-2016, Netanyahu allegedly received from billionaire Milchan NIS 267,254 ($75,700) in cigars and Sara Netanyahu received NIS 184,448 ($52,200) worth of champagne.
He and his family also received another NIS 229,174 ($64,900) in champagne and cigars from Packer between 2014 and 2016.
Feldman also testified about his efforts as a middleman to help in 2015 with regulatory issues relating to a potential merger between the Reshet and Keshet networks which would have helped Milchan.
Here, Feldman’s testimony overlapped with that of former top Netanyahu aide turned state’s witness Shlomo Filber.
Filber previously testified that he met with Netanyahu, Milchan and Feldman to try to overcome the regulatory issues in order to facilitate Milchan being able to invest in the two competitor networks.
However, Filber said that it was unclear whether the investment plan in question was legal or could be achieved through standard regulatory changes.
Eventually, the deal also fell through because of opposition from other investors who would need to have agreed to it.
One variation on the story was that Filber said the meeting was at Milchan’s mansion at Beit Yanai whereas Feldman said he did not meet Netanyahu at Milchan’s residence.
There is also police testimony from then-finance minister Yair Lapid about Netanyahu improperly trying to get him to give Milchan a massive tax exemption during two meetings in late 2013.
Further, the indictment said that Milchan and his top aide, Hadas Kline, appealed to Netanyahu repeatedly in December 2013 and in 2014 to help him get a long US visa extension.
Netanyahu initially got a short extension for Milchan through then-US ambassador Dan Shapiro.
When this extension was not enough, he obtained a longer extension by speaking to the then-US secretary of state John Kerry.
The defense is expected to cross-examine Feldman starting Tuesday.