Netanyahu took expensive gifts in exchange for favours, court told

Key witness says she was told by her boss ‘when you visit the Netanyahus, you can’t come empty-handed’

A key witness in Binyamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial says Israel’s former prime minister received expensive gifts from wealthy benefactors in exchange for favours.

Testifying on Tuesday for the prosecution at the Jerusalem district court in case 1,000 — dubbed the illegal gifts affair — was Hadas Klein, personal assistant to Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and later Israeli representative for Australian billionaire James Packer. Ms Klein testified that she was tasked with delivering gifts from both men to Mr Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.

The presents, mainly cigars, Champagne and jewellery, were worth about 700,000 shekels (about €193,000), the prosecution says. Ms Klein testified that she was afraid to write down the total cost of the gifts in an Excel document for Mr Milchan, fearing they had “crossed all red lines”.

She told the court the cigars for Mr Netanyahu and the Champagne and jewellery for his wife were delivered to the couple at their Caesarea home or via various assistants.

Ms Klein said Mr Packer “fell in love” with the former prime minister and said to give the Netanyahus anything they asked for.

“One of the things Arnon Milchan taught Packer — aside from to love Israel, its landscape, language and people — was that when you travel to Jerusalem to visit the Netanyahus, you can’t come empty-handed,” she told the court.

Asked by a prosecutor if she ever got complaints that not enough Champagne or cigars had been delivered, Klein responded, “that was the story of our lives”, and added “You couldn’t say no — he was the prime minister”.

At times in tears, she also accused Sara Netanyahu of crossing “all lines” and pressuring her to withdraw her testimony at “any price”.

Mr Netanyahu, charged with fraud and breach of trust in the case being heard, denies all the charges against him, claiming he is the victim of a left-wing witch hunt involving the media, law enforcement and the judiciary, aimed at keeping him from power.

According to the prosecution, in return for the gifts Mr Netanyahu asked US government officials to help with extending Mr Milchan’s US visa and also tried to reduce tax paid by returning Israeli residents at Mr Milchan’s request.

Case 1,000 is one of three graft allegations brought before court. Case 2,000 centres on an allegation that Mr Netanyahu asked the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper for positive coverage in exchange for help in reining in a rival publication.

Case 4,000, the only one involving bribery allegations, involves claims that Mr Netanyahu ensured big financial benefits for Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecommunications company, in return for favourable coverage on a popular news website owned by the Bezeq owner.

In Israel, bribery charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in jail and/or a fine. Fraud and breach of trust carry a jail sentence of up to three years.

The trial is expected to continue for at least another year. Mr Netanyahu can win another term as prime minister in an election to be held on November 1st, but will be required to step down if found guilty.