With investigators nearing the conclusion of Case 1,000—concerning illicit gifts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara allegedly received—an image is beginning to form of the complex manner in which the couple sought and received gifts worth tens of thousands of shekels from businessmen such as Arnon Milchan and James Packer.
Netanyahu claimed repeatedly the incident involved merely "gifts exchanged between friends", but the account Milchan supplied investigators with, according to which he "gave an instruction to just give them what they wanted,", illuminates the allegedly problematic nature of the relationship the powerful mogul had with the prime minister and his wife, which seems to have been based more on one-sided demands than on a mutual exchanging of presents.
After Milchan attempted to soften his initial account in his second testimony, police interrogators headed by the police's Investigations Department Maj.-Gen. Meni Yitzhaki went to London and questioned the Israeli producer—himself suspected of bribery—under caution. During the course of his third round of questioning, Milchan supplied a new account implicating Netanyahu.
Milchan explained requests for gifts and cigars have become methodical and habitual and that he thus gave his people a free hand to acquiesce the Netanyahus. "At some point I gave my staff carte blanche to give (the Netanyahu couple—ed) whatever they wanted," he said.
When asked why he did so, Milchan replied, "I neither wanted anything from them nor received anything."
The Israeli-born businessman, long considered to be a close friend of Netanyahu's, further explained he had no choice but to comply with their requests. His testimony thus increased suspicions the cigars and champagne provided to the Netanyahu couple were not merely "gifts between friends," as Netanyahu claimed, but benefits given on demand.
Milchan's account was corroborated by Hadas Klein—personal assistant to both him and billionaire James Packer—who said she was effectively in charge of "supplying the goods" to the Prime Minister's Residence.
"The champagne purchases were never initiated by Milchan or Packer, but always by the Netanyahu couple. Sara would ask for (boxes of) six or 12 bottles of champagne. Bibi (Netanyahu) would ask for cigars and also know about the quantities of champagne his wife received. The company driver would travel especially to Jerusalem to supply the cigars and champagnes," Klein said in her testimony, broadcast Monday by Israeli television news channels.
Klein provided investigators with examples of unusual requests. For instance, when a leak needed repairing at the residence, she said Mrs. Netanyahu called demanding a construction supervisor hired by the two billionaires come and direct the PMO staff on how to handle the leak.
"It was a difficult conversation. Sara yelled at me," she said. "(Sara) Netanyahu wanted the construction supervisor who works with Packer and Milchan to come advise the professional staff of the Prime Minister's Office about the leak.
"I didn't approve it, and then she screamed that Milchan and I humiliated her and Bibi by not approving things that are supposedly permitted to them.
"A few hours later, (Benjamin) Netanyahu called himself, said that it was not right what they (Packer and Milchan) were doing to (Sara), that they needed to understand what she is going through because of the media, and that they checked it with a legal counsel and 'it is all allowed,'" Klein concluded.
Perhaps the legal counsel the prime minister was alluding to, attorney Jacob Weinroth admitted in a television interview last week that he indeed allowed Mrs. Netanyahu to receive jewelry as a gift from Milchan and that she had demanded that a complementary set for the jewelry also be purchased by him.