Film mogul Milchan to testify at Netanyahu trial Sunday as AG said to mull deal

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Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan, a key witness in one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption cases, is set to testify at the premier’s corruption trial via video link from London beginning on Sunday.

The film producer is a witness in Case 1000 — one of three in which Netanyahu faces charges — involving suspicions that the premier illicitly accepted gifts including cigars and champagne from Milchan and another billionaire, James Packer.

Milchan will testify from Sunday to Thursday for two weeks, between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. A day or two will be dedicated to the prosecution’s examination, while the rest of the time will be granted for cross-examination by Netanyahu’s defense attorney Amit Hadad.

The prime minister’s wife, Sara, will be present in the room with Milchan in London, while the premier is expected to sit at the Jerusalem District Court to watch the testimony.

Netanyahu’s defense attorney told the court last month the premier wanted to exercise his right to be present, but could not clear the time to travel to London, asking for his wife to attend in his stead.

Case 1000 involves allegations surrounding luxury gifts received by Netanyahu and his family from wealthy benefactors, including Milchan, and quid pro quos he is accused of having provided in return. The indictment against Netanyahu alleges that he assisted Milchan with US visa issues and regulatory and tax benefits relating to his business interests.

Arnon Milchan (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in the Knesset, on March 28, 2005. (Flash90/File)

The prosecution claims that between 2011 and 2016, Milchan gave the Netanyahus luxury goods — including an estimated NIS 700,000 ($193,000) worth of cigars, champagne, and jewelry — in exchange for the alleged services. Netanyahu’s defense in Case 1000 has said that he was unaware his wife was receiving gifts from Milchan and his associate Packer.

Prosecutors are expected to use Milchan’s testimony to demonstrate that the scope of the gifts given to Netanyahu were especially expensive, compared to gifts given to other public figures.

Netanyahu’s defense team is expected to focus on demonstrating the Netanyahus’ friendship with Milchan and make a case that the Hollywood mogul frequently lavished generous gifts on all his friends.

The testimony comes as Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara is expected to sit with the prosecution and defense at the end of the month to try and ink a plea deal in the trial, the Haaretz daily reported Friday.

The report came after judges presiding over the trial were said to tell prosecutors that the bribery charge in Case 4000, the most significant of the three cases against Netanyahu, will be difficult to prove.

According to reports by Walla and Channel 13 on Thursday, the judges convened with state prosecutors and Netanyahu’s defense team in their chambers in order to discuss the complexities involved in the charge, and implored both parties to consider a plea bargain or mediation for “the sake of the country.”

Earlier this month in the trial, opposition leader Yair Lapid testified about his time as finance minister in 2013-2014, when he refused to extend the duration of the tax break given to returning Israelis who have lived abroad, from 10 years to 20, after being approached by Netanyahu and Milchan on the matter.

Last year, Milchan’s former personal assistant Hadas Klein detailed the various gifts given to Netanyahu in her testimony, which formed a key part of the prosecution’s case.

Milchan was grilled several times by police during the investigation. He was last in Israel for questioning in 2016 and sat down with detectives overseas in 2017.

Hadas Klein arrives at a court hearing in the trial against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem on September 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Jerusalem District Court last month okayed Milchan’s request to testify by video link from Israel’s embassy in London, after saying he couldn’t travel to Israel for health reasons.

Last year, Milchan said he and his staff were facing threats and defamation in Israel by supporters of Netanyahu. According to Haaretz, Milchan recently told an unspecified interlocutor that he is afraid to visit Israel, where he last landed seven years ago, and that he wouldn’t come even if his health allowed it.

The report noted Milchan’s travel over the past two years despite his claims of bad health, saying he flew by private jet between his properties in Bora Bora, Malibu, and Sussex County in England, and also visited Las Vegas.

Milchan was not charged in Case 1000, while Netanyahu was indicted for fraud and breach of trust.

In Case 4000, Netanyahu is charged with illicitly and lucratively benefiting the business interests of Bezeq’s controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, in exchange for positive coverage on the Elovitch-owned Walla news website. He is accused of abusing his powers when he served as both prime minister and communications minister from 2014 to 2017.

And in Case 2000, the prime minister is accused of fraud and breach of trust over his alleged attempt to reach a quid pro quo agreement with the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, a major newspaper, to give Netanyahu more positive media coverage in exchange for legislation that would constrain the rival Israel Hayom daily.

He denies all wrongdoing and claims without evidence that the charges are an effort by police, prosecutors, political rivals, the media, and others to force him from office.

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