Billionaire movie producer Arnon Milchan told a Jerusalem court on Monday that some $200,000 worth of the gifts he sent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara may have been “excessive” but claimed he did not think they were illegal.
Milchan founded the production house Regency and has been credited with producing over 130 motion pictures, from ‘Brazil’ (1985) and ‘Pretty Woman’ (1990) to ‘12 Years a Slave’ (2013) and ‘The Northman (2022). He met Netanyahu while working for Israeli intelligence, starting in the 1960s.
Appearing via video link from Brighton, UK – declining to travel on account of ill health at age 78 – Milchan said he gave the Netanyahus gifts in the spirit of friendship and never received anything in return.
Milchan testified on Sunday that the Netanyahus made “routine” requests for gifts and even developed a code for certain items, such as “leaves” for cigars, “roses” for champagne, and “dwarves” for fancy dress shirts. He also said Netanyahu had assured him it was all perfectly legal, and he only realized it might have been “excessive” when Israeli investigators approached him in 2016.
Prosecutors claim that Netanyahu had provided the mogul with various favors over time, such as proposing a law that would have lowered his tax liability and helping Milchan get a long-term US residency visa. Milchan’s testimony left it unclear whether Netanyahu had any role in either, however.
The prime minister was in the courtroom on both Sunday and Monday, with Milchan greeting him with “Shalom, Bibi!” His wife Sara had traveled to the UK and sat in the conference room of the Old Ship Hotel in Brighton with Milchan as he testified. Lead prosecutor Liat Ben Ari requested that Milchan avoid eye contact with the prime minister’s wife so she wouldn’t influence his testimony. Dozens of protesters also picketed the hotel, accusing the Netanyahus of corruption.
Netanyahu is currently facing three criminal cases for “corruption and breach of trust.” He has denied all wrongdoing and claimed to be the victim of a witch hunt by the “liberal media” and the biased justice system. He left the government in 2021 after 12 years as prime minister, but made a triumphant return last December, after five elections over the course of three years.