Milchan: 'I gave Netanyahu cigars, champagne and jewelry'

Milchan testified that he regularly gave Netanyahu gifts and that code names were used, but they never thought there were legal issues.

Netanyahu and Milchan (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu and Milchan
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and businessman Arnon Milchan had code names for the different gifts he had regularly bestowed on the Likud leader, Milchan said yesterday in his first day of remote testimony from a Brighton courthouse in Netanyahu’s Case 1000 corruption trial.

Gifts from Milchan to Netanyahu had been given code names like “uniform” for shirts, “leaves” for cigars and “roses” for champagne, but Milchan said he didn’t think there were legal issues. Milchan said the gifts were requests, not demands.

“I didn’t think it was something that would lead to an investigation,” Milchan said of the gifts, but according to police investigation transcripts, he also said he had assumed that he had been called in by the police about something connected to Netanyahu, since he was a law-abiding person.

At first, when asked about whether he gave gifts to the Netanyahu family, a vital component of the Case 1000 breach of trust charge, Milchan said “I don’t remember.”

When reminded of individual items, such as champagne, cigars, and jewelry, he confirmed that he had gifted them to his friend, the prime minister. When the gifting of a jacket was brought up, Netanyahu lawyer Amit Haddad objected, saying that it was not listed in the indictment.

 Press conference with Arnon Milchan, Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu. March 28 2005. (credit: FLASH90)
Press conference with Arnon Milchan, Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu. March 28 2005. (credit: FLASH90)

Milchan recalled how he had purchased shirts for Netanyahu because of a conversation in which he had told him his wardrobe was unsuitable for a prime minister. Netanyahu requested more shirts in another conversation about his limited wardrobe.

Sometimes Milchan would send someone to deliver champagne, other times he would give the Netanyahu family bottles personally when he was in Israel. Most meetings between Milchan and Netanyahu were accompanied by gifts, sometimes at request, other times at Milchan’s own initiative.

“I didn’t have someone who was responsible for cigars,” said Milchan. He said he had different people who he would ask to “go and take care of it.”

He didn’t concern himself too much with the logistics of it, and noted that, as someone who had made millions of dollars from the film industry, the expense of such gifts meant little.

Jewelry was purchased by Milchan for Sara Netanyahu on at least one occasion, but he said that Netanyahu had confirmed with the Attorney-General’s Office that gifts from friends were acceptable.

The witness said that sometimes requests for gifts were made when he was out of Israel, but he didn’t receive reports every day. Milchan said he later gave a free hand to his aides like Hadas Klein, who were told to give the prime minister’s family what they needed whether they asked or not. He felt there was a carte blanche to give the gifts as a private civilian, but was wary about causing trouble for Netanyahu.

The prosecution asked about the role of Klein, Milchan’s personal assistant, who had previously given testimony. Milchan said that she was his aide until today and responsible for letting him know what happens in Israel, and he trusted her on financial matters. Milchan said that Netanyahu was bothered by Klein’s familiarity with the details of their relationship, and “knew too much.”

Milchan explained how his friendship with Netanyahu had grown from acquaintances to be “like brothers.” He said that they had discussed the economy and history, and he had advised the prime minister on “matters.” Netanyahu and Milchan met in Caesarea, Jerusalem and sometimes abroad. He said that his last visit to Israel had been about six years ago.

“I can’t detail some of the things that Bibi and I did in service of the state,” said Milchan, who had engaged in intelligence work for the state in the 1960s.

Netanyahu entered the courtroom late, flanked by his security team.

“Hi, Bibi,” Milchan greeted him.

With Netanyahu’s rare appearance in court, security had been tightened with an extra layer in Jerusalem, far greater than it had been when opposition leader Yair Lapid gave his testimony in mid-June. Netanyahu left the hearing an hour early with a big grin as he went out the door.

 The prime minister’s wife, Sara, attended the hearing at the UK courthouse, but access to the courtroom was denied to the media and public. Outside the courthouse, protesters gathered to demonstrate against Netanyahu and his family, warning Sara that they would follow her wherever she went.

The prime minister’s wife also received a tongue lashing by the prosecution, who asked Sara not to make eye contact with the witness as a form of communication. Netanyahu's lawyer Amit Haddad ridiculed the idea that she could influence proceedings by looking at him, asking how she was supposed to watch the testimony.

Milchan gave his testimony remotely from Brighton ostensibly due to his health. Milchan seemed thin and weary from the stand in the British courthouse, but attentive and in good humor. He often made sarcastic comments in response to queries from the prosecution and judges.

The Hollywood film mogul coughed and spoke with a hoarse voice that he tried to soothe with water. He requested that the testimony end half an hour earlier than scheduled.

The video testimony, which was done through Zoom, was rife with audio technical difficulties, which delayed some of the proceedings. Multiple television screens were set up throughout the Jerusalem courtroom. The prosecution and defense teams were divided between Jerusalem and Brighton.

Milchan’s 10-day testimony on the “gifts affair” would address the allegations that Netanyahu had engaged in breach of trust. According to the prosecution, Milchan gave gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels to the Netanyahu family, allegedly in exchange for aid in business affairs.

The businessman allegedly asked Netanyahu for help in securing a US visa by lobbying then-US secretary of state John Kerry, and for the advancement of tax law extensions for returning residents that would benefit Milchan.

The prosecution then asked the court that meetings in the judges’ chambers on Netanyahu’s corruption trials should be made public, in order to prevent leaks and rumors that could harm the proceedings.

On Thursday, a leak about one such meeting claimed that the Case 4000 bribery charge was falling apart and that the court suggested a plea bargain for “the good of the state.”

The prosecution also asked the court to accelerate the trials by holding hearings during the July recess period.