A Likud lawmaker on Sunday accused billionaire Israeli film producer Arnon Milchan of trying to bring down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by leaking details of the hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of gifts he supposedly gave him and his wife.
The comments came in the midst of two corruption investigations into Netanyahu.
Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich said Sunday the probes were close to completion and officers had reached their probable conclusions.
“We already know what conclusions we have reached in the investigation,” Alscheich told reporters, without elaborating.
“I believe we will bring the material to the prosecutor for a decision in the next few weeks,” he said.
Until now, Milchan has been portrayed as a close friend and benefactor of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. But MK David Amsalem from Netanyahu’s Likud party charged that the Hollywood mogul himself is the one behind behind the ongoing police investigation into the Netanyahus, called Case 1000.
“Ask yourself why Milchan is even telling these stories,” Amsalem told Army Radio. “Milchan came to the police. Something is going on here.”
Over the weekend, a television report said Sara Netanyahu had Milchan buy her expensive jewelry and then complained when she did not receive the full set she had requested.
It was the latest in a string of revelations about the relationship between Netanyahu, his wife, and Milchan that form the core of a police investigation into whether the Netanyahus received improper gifts from him worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.
Milchan reportedly told Israeli police under questioning that the Netanyahus demanded the champagne and cigars that he has allegedly been supplying them, and that they were not, as they have claimed, merely gifts he gave out of generosity and friendship.
Amsalem charged that the ongoing leaks of material from the investigation were designed to turn the public against Netanyahu.
“There is a system,” he said. “To bring down the prime minister you need to create the public atmosphere. Every week something else comes out.”
Asked, “What do you think Milchan is trying to do here?” Amsalem replied: “To bring down the prime minister.”
“First, we have to say something simple: If I buy a gift for someone, then I buy him a gift. No one is forcing him, a 75-year old billionaire, to do anything. Did Netanyahu come to him with a gun to his head? No one forced him,” Amsalem said, adding that it was not even clear that any of the reported events had actually transpired.
“Milchan could be lying,” he said.
Friday’s TV report noted that the particular episode with the jewelry occurred in 2004 and so is not a part of the investigation due to the the statute of limitations. Nevertheless, the report said, it pointed to a pattern of behavior.
According to Channel 2, in 2004, when Netanyahu was finance minister, Sara Netanyahu sent Milchan a request specifying the jewelry she wanted from a specific store in Tel Aviv.
When Milchan sent his assistant to make the purchase she noted that it consisted of a necklace that cost $6,265 and a matching bracelet for $2,305.
The assistant assumed the expensive necklace would be enough and had it sent to Sara Netanyahu, the TV report said. However, the next day, they received word from the Netanyahus to say that apparently half the gift had not arrived.
The assistant was then sent back to the store to purchase the matching bracelet. Channel 2 showed what it said were the receipts and price tags of the jewelry.
The Prime Minister’s Office denied the report, saying, “It never happened.”
Also Friday, Haaretz reported that Milchan said the Netanyahus had used the code words “pinks” and “leaves” to demand more champagne and cigars, and these items were then purchased through people working for Milchan and delivered to the prime minister and his wife by Milchan’s chauffeurs.
Haaretz said the use of code words points to the fact that they were aware the gifts were problematic.
The prime minister last week dismissed reports over the value of the presents he allegedly received and said that he and his wife Sara have also given Milchan and his wife gifts in return, as is customary among friends.
According to Haaretz, Milchan’s testimony may be a turning point in the case.
The paper said Milchan never displayed spontaneous generosity, only buying the gifts when the prime minister and his wife asked for them. An unnamed person, said to be close to the movie producer, said he was not buying the gifts for any specific favor in return, but only because he enjoyed feeling close to the seat of power.
While leaked reports of the police investigation have indicated that Milchan spent some NIS 400,000-600,000 ($100,000-150,000) on champagne and cigars for the Netanyahus over the best part of a decade, the prime minister and his wife have reportedly told police that the sums involved were far lower, and that the gifts were unremarkable since the Milchans are their best friends.
Netanyahu asked US secretary of state John Kerry three times in 2014 to arrange a long-term visa to allow Milchan, an Israeli citizen, to live in the United States.
The visa was granted.
Benjamin Netanyahu has been questioned under caution by police over the case as well as over a second affair, Case 2000, dealing with an alleged quid pro quo deal he hatched with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would see Mozes’s newspaper tamp down its negative coverage of the premier; in exchange Netanyahu would work to curtail the circulation of the free daily Israel Hayom, a Yedioth competitor.