TEL AVIV — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week found himself shaken by an unprecedented political corruption scandal, that according to Israel media could even lead to the end of his government. Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan is at the center of the allegations, but it remains unclear if Milchan’s many gifts to the prime minister, including Cuban cigars,were made illegally.
Police questioned Netanyahu twice in the past week on suspicion of graft. More specifically, it was believed he has made a habit of accepting gifts of champagne, cigars and other luxurious tidbits from several leading Israeli businessmen.
One of those businessmen proffering bubbly and Cubans was New Regency Films head and prolific producer Milchan.
Milchan, whose first decade in Hollywood overlapped with his 20 years in the murky underbelly of the Israeli intelligence services, is a multi-billionaire with more than 130 films under his belt, including “Pretty Woman,” “Fight Club” and “12 Years a Slave.” He is also accustomed to access to the inner sanctum of Israeli politics, having enjoyed close relationships with former premiers Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert and serving as emissary between them, as well as Netanyahu, with various bold-faced names in Hollywood.
According to Israel’s Channel 2 news, Milchan for years has made a habit of supplying Netanyahu with expensive cigars (Cohiba Siglo 5, Trinidad and Montecristo among them), and also plied Netanyahu’s wife Sara with $200 bottles of Dom Pérignon pink champagne. The gifts, which Netanyahu insists were nothing more than a good will offering between friends, have been coming in since before Netanyahu’s most recent stint as prime minister began eight years ago, and are estimated by Israeli police to have be worth hundreds of thousands of shekels (possibly as much as $100,000).
Channel 2 also said Milchan provided meals from private chefs, expensive custom suits, and jewelry for Sara Netanyahu.
Milchan, who has been questioned by Israeli police on the affair, did respond to requests for comment. Netanyahu’s lawyer insisted there is “not a trace” of criminality in the matter.
The four-term prime minister’s political career has been marred by a number of accusations against both him and his wife Sara. The Milchan graft case is just one of two major bribery scandals for which Netanyahu is currently being investigated. The second involves a series of taped conversations in which Netanyahu attempts to broker a backwater deal with a leading newspaper publisher in exchange for more favorable coverage of his administration, a case that amounts to the offering of bribes in exchange for political perks.
That investigation, which has been dubbed Case 2000 and has caused such a firestorm that the Israeli Knesset legislature has even begun discussing a contingency plan if it brings the current government to its knees, has all the elements of a bombshell.
“If an indictment could be filed against Netanyahu for taking bribes or breach of trust or conspiracy – in addition to accepting gifts from movie producer Arnon Milchan – he would be forced to resign and his government would fall apart,” wrote Yossi Verter in the left-leaning Israeli daily Haaretz on Thursday. “The Israeli media will not go back to being what they were prior to this week. The same probably holds true for Israeli politics.”
(Pictured: Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Arnon Milchan)