Hollywood businessman Arnon Milchan began testifying today in the corruption trial of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a hearing that went directly from a city on the English coast to Jerusalem.
The trial was held in Jerusalem, but Milchan’s testimony took place in Brighton, near where the 78-year-old is now, at the request of prosecutors. The testimony is expected to last several days.
Prosecutors have accused Netanyahu of improperly receiving nearly 700,000 shekels (about $200,000) in gifts from Milchan and a fellow Australian businessman, which the indictment describes as a champagne ‘chain’ supply’ and cigarettes. The president has denied any wrongdoing in this case and two other cases pending in the same case.
Netanyahu has been accused of helping Milchan with his business interests and US visa status. The president has described the gift between friends as normal and the trial as a political witch hunt.
Milchan said that the love cast was deep in the relationship. “I can’t tell you how much Bibi and I have done in secret for the country,” he said in his testimony, using Netanyahu’s name.
When the Prime Minister arrived at the Jerusalem Palace to watch from afar, Milchan greeted him on the screen with “Salom, Bibi!”
The criminal investigation against Netanyahu, now in his sixth term as prime minister, began in 2016 and sparked a series of political upheavals in Israel. After an 18-month inconclusive election process and opposition, Netanyahu returned to power in December leading a right-wing government.
Netanyahu has denied any connection between his trial and the reformed justice system that his party wants and which has sparked strong opposition. He has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust for allegedly providing legal support to businessmen for favorable media exchanges.