The ongoing corruption trial of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a Hollywood twist this week as the prominent Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan testified via video link from Brighton. The Prime Minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, on a private visit to Britain, is reportedly expected to attend Milchan’s testimony.
Milchan, best known for producing box-office hits such as Pretty Woman and 12 Years A Slave, is a key witness in one of the three cases against the Prime Minister, in which Netanyahu is charged with fraud and breach of trust. His evidence is crucial for prosecutors to establish the alleged quid pro quo arrangement where Netanyahu purportedly received extravagant gifts in return for promoting Milchan’s personal and business interests.
The indictment states that Milchan provided the Israeli leader and his wife with a steady flow of luxury items, including cigars, champagne, and jewellery. These gifts, amounting to £157,000, are described as a lavish “supply line” bestowed over several years.
Prosecutors accuse Netanyahu of leveraging his influential position to assist Milchan, notably securing a US visa extension through his diplomatic contacts, including former secretary of state John Kerry. Netanyahu is also alleged to have advocated for legislation potentially providing Milchan with millions in tax breaks.
The indictment maintains that, given the close relationship between the two, Netanyahu should have abstained from all dealings related to Milchan’s affairs.
Netanyahu, however, has fervently denied all charges, depicting himself as a victim of a biased justice system and a liberal media conspiracy. The charges have severely hampered his political standing, catalysing a political crisis that has triggered five elections in less than four years and raising questions about his ability to govern while on trial.
Critics also suggest that Netanyahu is endorsing a contentious plan to overhaul Israel’s judiciary, an alleged ploy to escape the charges. The Prime Minister has dismissed these accusations.
The trial commenced in 2020 but has yet to hear Netanyahu’s defence. Over 40 witnesses, including some of Netanyahu’s former close confidants who have defected, have provided their accounts, illuminating not only the three cases but also providing salacious details about Netanyahu’s lifestyle and alleged propensity for gifts.
Despite the challenges, such as the difficulty of proving the more severe crime of bribery, as warned by the judges last week, the prosecutors seem determined to follow through with the trial, even as the possibility of a plea bargain is regularly raised.
Milchan’s testimony is expected to last six hours a day and extend throughout this week. His account is broadcast live in a Jerusalem courtroom, accessible for the judges, other lawyers, journalists, and attendees to view. Despite the gravity of his testimony, Milchan himself faces no charges in the case.