Israeli opposition leader says Netanyahu tried to get him to back tax breaks for Hollywood mogul

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Jerusalem (AP) — Israel’s opposition leader testified Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apparently tried to persuade him — twice — to back legislation that would have given a Hollywood mogul millions in tax breaks.

But Yair Lapid, a former prime minister himself and a major Netanyahu rival, said he was not convinced.

Lapid made the statements as he testified in Jerusalem in one of three corruption cases against Netanyahu. The indictment claims Netanyahu used his position of power to further Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan’s interests in exhange for gifts, representing a conflict between the premier’s public duties and personal friendship.

Netanyahu did personal favors for Milchan, including asking U.S. officials to extend Milchan’s U.S. resident’s permit and extending Israeli regulations exempting Israeli returnees from declaring foreign income, according to the indictment.

Lapid testified Monday that Milchan and his attorneys had tried first without success to persuade him that extending the tax breaks for a decade would be good for Israel, Israeli media reported. Then Netanyahu broached the matter twice with Lapid, he testified — once at the prime minister’s residence and once outside a Cabinet meeting, according to the reports.

Lapid said he told Netanyahu that it wasn’t going to happen, and the prime minister responded that it was “a good law.”

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, denies claims of wrongdoing, saying he was not acting in Milchan’s personal interests and even occasionally acted against them. He says the exchanges of gifts were just friendly gestures.

Milchan is expected to testify in the case in a video call from London, where he resides, sometime later this month.

Haaretz newspaper has reported that in 2013 Lapid, then finance minister, sought legal advice on the possibility of promoting the legislation that would have benefitted Milchan. Earlier, Lapid had reportedly said he replied, “no way,” to Netanyahu and Milchan about the prospects for the legislation.

Netanyahu is charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate scandals involving powerful media moguls and wealthy associates. He denies wrongdoing.

Critics say that Netanyahu is driven to weaken the courts and change the judicial system as a way to open an escape route from his trial, claims he dismisses as untrue.

The corruption charges also have been at the center of a protracted political crisis that sent Israelis to the polls five times in less than four years — each vote essentially a referendum on Netanyahu’s fitness to rule. After losing power in 2021 to a coalition of opponents, Netanyahu returned as prime minister late last year, despite his legal problems. Under Israeli law, the prime minister has no obligation to step aside while on trial.

The trial, which began in May 2020, has featured more than 40 prosecution witnesses, including some of Netanyahu’s closest former confidants who turned against the premier. Witness accounts have shed light not only on the three cases but also revealed sensational details about Netanyahu’s character and his family’s reputation for living off the largesse of taxpayers and wealthy supporters.

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