A Jewish lawmaker in France who introduced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to an alleged French fraudster said Tuesday that Netanyahu was given free access to the home of the billionaire on a visit to France in 1999, but claimed there was absolutely no suspicion of wrongdoing at the time.
Meyer Habib, a longtime friend of Netanyahu, told Army Radio he regretted introducing the then-former prime minister to Arnaud Mimran, who is currently standing trial for graft in France, but stressed that when he did, “no one could have known that he could have become a criminal.”
Mimran is on trial in France for his alleged role in a massive fraud involving the sale of carbon credits in a case referred to in France as the “heist of the century.”
Mimran reportedly said last month that he gave €1 million ($1.1 million) to Netanyahu in 2001. After a string of contradictory statements from the Prime Minister’s Office, Mimran amended his claim, telling Channel 2 news last week that he had given a much smaller sum of $40,000, and it was to fund public diplomacy efforts rather than a personal donation.
A statement by Netanyahu’s lawyer David Shimroni said that the money was deposited in “a fund for Mr. Netanyahu’s public activity, which included many media appearances and public diplomacy campaigns abroad on behalf of the State of Israel, and which was conducted in accordance with the law.”
Habib denied that Netanyahu’s connection to Mimran implicated him in an wrongdoing.
“[Netanyahu] received the money in the most legitimate way possible. [Mimran] was completely clean back then,” Habib said. “So he lent his house for a week to Netanyahu. What do any of the allegations against him now have to do with 15 years ago?”
On Monday Haaretz reported that France was expected to launch an official investigation into Mimran’s donations to Israeli sources, including a company called Track Performance Ltd which was reportedly set up by Habib and Mimran.
Habib confirmed Tuesday that he did set up a company with Mimran but said it had never been active.
“It didn’t work for one day. There was no bank account, no transactions,” he told Army Radio.
This past week, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit reportedly instructed employees in the state prosecutor’s office to look look into the money received by Netanyhau from Mimran.
Also last week, it was revealed that police had launched a probe into a case involving Netanyahu. Police chief Roni Alsheich gave his go-ahead on the case being investigated by special police unit Lahav 433, dubbed Israel’s FBI, but has demanded full secrecy with no leaks be made to the media, according to Channel 2 news.