Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu Pleads Not Guilty in Corruption Case Involving James Packer

Posted on: February 9, 2021, 08:50h. 

Last updated on: February 9, 2021, 12:41h.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded not guilty to corruption charges Monday before abruptly leaving the Jerusalem District Court 20 minutes after the start of his trial.

James Packer (left) claims he showered Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and his family with gifts because they were friends. (Image: Morning Bulletin)

The 71-year-old is facing charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in a case that has entangled Crown Resorts casino mogul James Packer, two media tycoons, and an Israeli intelligence operative turned Hollywood producer.

Netanyahu was indicted in November by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit following a long police investigation. The prosecution accuses the country’s longest-serving prime minister of accepting lavish gifts from Packer and Packer associate Arnon Milchan, and of attempting to manipulate the press.

Packer’s Largesse

Although Packer received some bad news on the home front today, he is not accused of a crime. But he is likely to be called to testify in Netanhayu’s trial. Prosecutors are expected to quiz the Australian billionaire about why he and former spy Milchan, who produced the movies Pretty Woman, JFK, and 12 Years a Slave, among many others, showered the Netanyahu family with gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Packer previously told investigators that he liked giving the Netanyahus gifts because they were friends.

The gifts, mainly cigar boxes and champagnes, were given to Netanyahu and his wife by Milchan and Packer continuously in response to requests and even demands, including through deliveries, even when Milchan and Packer did not stay in Israel, to the extent that they became a ‘supply line’,” reads the indictment.

“As part of his business, Packer was the owner of a company in Israel that operated in the investments field of Israeli companies in the hi-tech industry,” it continues. “Packer also looked into investments in Israel in the communications field. In the years 2014-2016, Packer purchased a home in Israel and has worked to receive residency status in Israel.”

Adelson Falling Out

Netanyahu is also accused of backing regulatory decisions to favor media mogul Shaul Elovitch, owner of telecom giant Bezeq, in return for positive coverage. Separately, it’s alleged he tried to negotiate a deal with the publisher of Israel’s leading daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, to suppress its criticism of him.

Netanyahu allegedly promised the newspaper’s owner, Arnon Mozes, that he would convince his friend, the late Sheldon Adelson, to cut circulation of Israel Hayom, a competing paper owned by the Adelson family,  in return for favorable coverage.

Adelson told Israeli police in October 2018 that he had not been consulted on this matter and was reportedly incensed. He said he would “never meet [Netanyahu] again because of what I read,” according to the interview transcript.

Netanyahu honored Adelson as a “great Jewish patriot” when he paid his respects during a short memorial service last month after his former friend lost his fight with cancer.

The prime minister declined to speak to the media as he left the court Monday, but later offered the following comment about the day’s events on Twitter.

“Everyone knows that the cases against me are a stitch-up, and today, it turns out that they are not even stitched very well,” he said. “I hope they do not interfere in the election, but even if they do, we will win big. Thank you for your tremendous support!”