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Movie mogul testifies on leader’s ‘gifts’

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JERUSALEM: A Hollywood producer of blockbuster films took the stand in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, describing how he routinely delivered tens of thousands of dollars of champagne, cigars and other gifts requested by the Israeli leader.

Arnon Milchan, who appeared by videoconference from the British city of Brighton, near where he is based, is a key witness whose testimony is essential for prosecutors who are trying to prove that Netanyahu committed fraud and breach of trust in one of three cases brought against him.

His testimony, in the prolonged trial, is expected to run all of this week and into next.

Prosecutors allege that Netanyahu wrongfully received almost 700,000 shekels (about $290,000) worth of gifts from Milchan, and from Australian billionaire James Packer, which the indictment describes as a ‘‘supply-line’’ of champagne and cigars.

The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing in this case and two other cases that are being heard in the same trial. Milchan and Packer are not on trial and have denied wrongdoing.

Netanyahu is accused of helping Milchan with his business interests and with his US visa status. The prime minister has described the gift-giving among friends as normal conduct and his trial as a political witch-hunt.

Milchan hinted at a deeper, patriotic cast to the relationship. ‘‘I can’t tell you how many things Bibi and I did in secret for the country,’’ he said in his testimony, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

When the prime minister arrived at the Jerusalem court to watch from afar, Milchan greeted him offscreen with ‘‘Shalom, Bibi!’’

Milchan has more than 130 film credits to his name, including 12 Years a Slave, JFK, Heat, L.A. Confidential and The Revenant. He was also an Israeli intelligence operative from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s.

In hearings late last year, the private chef, driver and aides to Packer revealed the depth of the relationship between the Australian and Netanyahu. Limor Dicovsky, who worked as a chef for Packer and Milchan, told the court this month that when Packer visited Israel, the Netanyahus ate at his home – next door to theirs – regularly.

Dicovsky said Packer’s house had an assortment of cigars served to guests in a humidor and also cigars in sealed packs. The latter, she said, were intended only for Netanyahu, who received them as gifts. Shani Koskas, Packer’s housekeeper, said under oath that no other guest of Packer’s received cigar boxes from him.

Criminal probes against Netanyahu, now in a record sixth term as premier, began in 2016 and set off years of political turmoil in Israel.

After a cycle of inconclusive elections and an 18-month stint in opposition, Netanyahu returned to power in December as head of a hard-right government.

Netanyahu has denied any link between his trial and reforms to the justice system that his coalition is seeking.

He has been indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust for allegedly granting regulatory favours to businessmen in return for positive favourable media coverage.

Article link:
Article source: The Age / Reuters |Maayan Lubell | 27.6.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

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