JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s opposition leader testified Monday for the prosecution against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his corruption trial in Jerusalem.
Yair Lapid, himself a former prime minister and Netanyahu’s arch-rival, testifies in one of three cases against Netanyahu. The indictment claims Netanyahu used his position of power to further the interests of Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan in exchange for gifts, representing a conflict between the prime minister’s public duties and his personal friendship.
Netanyahu performed personal favors for Milchan, including asking US officials to extend Milchan’s US residency permit and expanding Israeli regulations exempting Israeli returnees from declaring their foreign income, according to the indictment.
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, denies allegations of wrongdoing, saying he was not acting in Milchan’s personal interest and had even acted against them at times. He says the gift exchanges were just friendly gestures.
Milchan is expected to give evidence in the case in a video call from London, where he resides, later this month.
The Haaretz newspaper reported that in 2013 Lapid, then finance minister, sought legal advice on whether to promote legislation that would have benefited Milchan. Earlier, Lapid reportedly said he answered “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 Netanyahu is being pushed to weaken the courts and change the justice system in order to open up an escape route from his trial, claims he dismisses as false.
Corruption charges have also been at the center of a protracted political crisis that has sent Israelis to the polls five times in less than four years – with each vote essentially a referendum on Netanyahu’s fitness to rule. After losing power in 2021 to a coalition of opponents, Netanyahu returned to the post of prime minister late last year, despite his legal troubles. Under Israeli law, the prime minister has no obligation to stand down during his trial.
The trial, which began in May 2020, has brought together more than 40 prosecution witnesses, including some of Netanyahu’s closest former confidants who turned against the prime minister. The testimonies not only shed light 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.