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Key witness in trial denies Netanyahus got luxury gifts out of genuine friendship

On her first day under cross-examination, a key witness in the corruption trial of Benjamin Netanyahu who is a top aide to Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan denied claims by the defense that she had hidden evidence, that she had exaggerated gifts to the Netanyahu family, and that such presents were given out of genuine friendship rather than any quid pro quo.

After three days of testimony, Hadas Klein took the stand on Tuesday for cross-examination by Netanyahu’s defense attorney, Amit Hadad, in Case 1000, relating to the luxury gifts the former prime minister and his family received and any quid pro quos Netanyahu may have provided in return.

Netanyahu was not in court for the proceedings despite indicating earlier that he would attend. He has not attended the vast majority of hearings.

  • The indictment against Netanyahu in Case 1000 charges the former prime minister with fraud and breach of trust for accepting luxury gifts from Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer worth NIS 691,776 (about $200,000) and for intervening on behalf of Milchan when he was seeking a US visa renewal and assisting him with regulatory benefits.

In an apparent attempt to frame the high-end gifts to the Netanyahus as an exchange between friends, Hadad presented correspondence between Klein and Packer, as well as between Klein and Sara Netanyahu.

In a screenshot of an email to Klein, Packer was said to have written: “Sister Sara gave me some wonderful presents I am so grateful Pls make sure she knows how touched, appreciative and moved that I am. They mean the world to me. I am so happy to be an Israeli resident. Jame [sic].”

When Hadad posited to Klein that messages shown to the court were an example of the warm friendship she had with Sara Netanyahu, the executive assistant said that being nice to people was part of her job.

*Amit Hadad, defense attorney for Benjamin Netanyahu

“I did it happily because it’s my job and I do everything needed, including being nice. It’s part of my job — I cannot tell Arnon that I do not agree to do it, because then I would be sent home,” Klein said. In response to Hadad showing further friendly messages between Klein and Sara Netanyahu, Klein told the court: “I told her what she wanted to hear.”

Klein also denied that Milchan was the one who initiated purchasing expensive gifts for Sara Netanyahu, including pricey jewelry.

“I don’t see Arnon saying to Sara: ‘Come and I’ll buy you jewelry,’” Klein said.

In response to the defense claim that she herself received expensive gifts from Packer and Milchan, Klein said: “I work for Milchan and Mr. Packer, I don’t have to report any gifts… I’m not a public servant.” She told the court that Packer wanted to purchase expensive jewelry and a trip to the Maldives for her for her 50th birthday, and she declined.

Hadad accused Klein of exaggerating the amounts and frequency of gifts provided to the Netanyahus, but Klein claimed that she had actually played them down. “Many times it was 2-3 bottles of champagne, not cases of champagne,” Hadad said, calling Klein a liar and saying such gifts were rare, “maybe once a year.” Klein responded that when speaking to police investigators, she actually presented a pared-down version of events, and that such gifts were sizable and frequent.

In addition to messages between them, Hadad suggested that a picture of Sara Netanyahu with Milchan’s wife Amanda, hanging out in the Milchan family home, also showed that there was a true friendship between the two couples.

Klein said in response that there were usually pictures of former prime minister Shimon Peres on display, and they would be replaced when the Netanyahus came to visit.

“All these pictures, do you know how they hang? If the Netanyahus arrived [for a visit], Arnon would say ‘Quick, quick, quick, take down all the pictures of Shimon Peres and hang pictures of him [Netanyahu] instead,’” Klein told the court.

In an apparent attempt to undermine her testimony and imply bias, Hadad questioned Klein on her political views, citing an article saying she was on the center-left of the political spectrum.

“I do not think there is anyone without a [political] opinion,” Klein said. “This shocks me. I have never done anything because of a political opinion. By the way, I think Benjamin Netanyahu is a great leader.”

Hadad then asked Klein if she had voted for Netanyahu in the last election, but Klein noted that she did not need to reveal whom she cast a ballot for.

At one stage, Hadad accused Klein of working with the police to discredit the Netanyahus.

“You and the police have an interest in blackening the names of Sara Netanyahu and Benjamin Netanyahu,” Hadad claimed.

“I conspired with the police? Give me a break,” Klein responded.

And in a heated exchange, Klein pushed back against Hadad’s claim that she had deliberately tried to hide phone evidence and said that Packer had thrown the devices in a swimming pool due to his “fears.”

“Your whole phone broke, everything’s gone?” Hadad asked.

“I answered and I’m not lying,” Klein responded. “I walk around with two cellphones that I use. During one of James Packer’s episodes we would buy iPads every two days because of his fears. He was sure there were all sorts of things and he would throw them in the pool.” Klein was apparently referring to Packer’s widely documented mental health struggles.

“I will not let you say I threw them in the pool or did anything. I will not let you say that. You defamed me. I never threw them away or destroyed them. When you buy a new phone, you don’t keep using the old one,” Klein said.

“Are we in kindergarten? You came to nine interrogations without the phone,” Hadad responded.

“Don’t raise your voice,” Klein said.

“Did the phones break physically or did they break down?” Hadad asked.

“A phone breaks when it falls without a cover, and you buy a new one,” Klein said.

Hadad responded that there are professionals who can transfer the information from one telephone to the other. Klein said the contacts on her phone had been transferred but not the WhatsApp messages as she hadn’t backed them up.

Klein’s testimony, which began last week, has mostly revolved around the various gifts she helped arrange for the Netanyahus, as well as the former premier’s alleged willingness to intervene on behalf of Milchan, including when he tried to renew his US visa.

  • Along with Case 1000, Netanyahu faces fraud and breach of trust charges in two other cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He has denied wrongdoing and claimed without evidence that the charges were fabricated and part of a bid by the state prosecution and political rivals to force him from office.

Source: TOI