Alleged French fraudster changes donations account to match PM

‘Everything that Bibi says is true,’ Arnaud Mimran now says, as Netanyahu slams political ‘persecution’ by those who failed to oust him from power

Arnaud Mimran (right) and his lawyer Jean-Marc Fedida (left), arrive at the Paris courthouse on May 25, 2016. (AFP/Bertrand Guay)
Arnaud Mimran (right) and his lawyer Jean-Marc Fedida (left), arrive at the Paris courthouse on May 25, 2016. (AFP/Bertrand Guay)

French Jewish businessman Arnaud Mimran, currently standing trial for graft in France, on Tuesday revised his account of his donations to Benjamin Netanyahu in the last decade, saying that the prime minister had the numbers right and he had been wrong.

“Everything that Bibi says is true,” Mimran told Channel 2, a day after he rejected Netanyahu’s claim that he had been given a far lower sum by the French businessman. “It’s possible that I got the numbers wrong because it’s been more than 10 years.”

Earlier reports said Mimran had testified to giving Netanyahu a million euros in 2009, when he was running for prime minister, to fund his election campaign. Netanyahu denied that account, asserting that the contribution was made in 2001, amounted to the much smaller sum of $40,000 and funded public diplomacy efforts rather than a personal campaign.

“It was a long time ago, so it’s possible I made a mistake with the sum,” Mimran told Channel 2 on Tuesday. “In any event, there was nothing illegal on Bibi’s part. I transferred a sum to him and invited him to vacations in Monaco and a ski resort in the French Alps.”

He said that, all told, it added up to 150,000 euros, or a million French francs.

Speaking from Moscow on Tuesday, Netanyahu publicly addressed the allegations for the first time, terming it, along with a growing number of other recent instances where his integrity has been questioned, “systematic political persecution” and “false accusations” by people who failed to oust him from power through elections.

“They spoke about a million euro for the 2009 election campaign. It wasn’t a million euro. It wasn’t an election campaign. It wasn’t 2009. What they failed to do in the ballots they’re trying to do with false accusations and media hype,” said Netanyahu.

He reiterated his spokespeople’s denial of claims by Mimran, to the effect that he funded an election campaign by Netanyahu, and states that he received the money as a “private citizen for hasbara for the benefit of Israel.”

“I believe in our justice system, and nothing will come of any of these cases, and do you know why? Because there is nothing,” Netanyahu continued.

Mimran said Monday that he gave Netanyahu a donation of nearly $200,000 in 2001, directly contradicting an earlier statement by the Prime Minister’s Office that claimed the premier had received almost five times less than that amount. Speaking from Paris, Mimran told Channel 10 news that he had transferred €170,000 ($193,000) to Netanyahu’s personal account in 2001, when the Israeli leader was not in public office.

“I still have the bank statement, ‘From Arnaud Mimran,’ from my personal account, ‘to Benjamin Netanyahu,’ to his personal bank account,” he said.

Earlier Monday, Netanyahu reiterated his rejection of the allegation that he received €1 million in campaign funding from Mimran, but acknowledged for the first time that he had received a smaller sum of $40,000 from the accused French fraudster.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office also stressed 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.”

Pressed by Channel 10 on Monday, Mimran asserted that the money did not go into a fund but was transferred directly to Netanyahu’s account.

“The amount that I sent is official, you can see it in his account, it’s not something he can hide or I can hide. It’s in his personal name — Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Mimran reportedly said last month that he gave €1 million ($1.1 million) in campaign contributions to Netanyahu in 2001. He clarified Monday, however, that he gave a million — not euros, but francs (which were phased out two years earlier), equivalent to €170,000.

Israeli law limits individual campaign contributions to NIS 11,480 (€2,670).

A Justice Ministry spokeswoman said Sunday that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had ordered an examination of Mimran’s testimony “immediately after he became aware of it.” The statute of limitations for such crimes in Israel is 10 years, effectively ruling out criminal prosecution.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with then-cabinet secretary and current Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, May 26, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with then-cabinet secretary and current Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit (right), May 26, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Netanyahu left the Prime Minister’s Office in mid-1999 after suffering an election loss to Labor’s then-leader Ehud Barak. In 2002, he became foreign minister in then-prime minister Ariel Sharon’s government.

Mimran is one of the main suspects in a trial over an alleged scam amounting to €283 million involving the trade of carbon emissions permits and the taxes on them.

In a statement on June 5, the Prime Minister’s Office accused Mimran of committing further fraud by making a false claim about Netanyahu.

“Mr. Mimran, who is on trial for fraud in the range of several hundreds of millions of dollars, is trying to divert attention by means of another fraud,” the statement read.

Mimran is also said to have allowed Netanyahu to use a large apartment on Paris’s Avenue Victor Hugo, according to Fabrice Arfi, a journalist for the Mediapart news site. He shared the findings of his investigation with Haaretz, which published a report on the accusations in May.

Netanyahu had used the apartment since the early 2000s, according to the report. The two men were photographed together in the luxurious resort of Monaco in 2003 when Netanyahu was Israel’s finance minister and Mimran was already suspected of crimes separate to the ones for which he will stand trial.

In 2000, Mimran was investigated on suspicion of insider trading in the United States and agreed, together with his partners, to pay a fine of $1.2 million, Haaretz reported. He also donated an unspecified amount of money to Likud officials in France, the report said, based on findings shared by Mediapart with Haaretz.

Mimran, who was convicted of tax offenses in France in the late 1990s, is accused of using front companies to collect VAT returns from France on carbon emissions permits that he bought from countries that did not collect VAT on them, like the Netherlands. Known as the carbon emissions scam, it is believed to have caused billions in damages in 2009 by fraudulently exploiting the differences in how industrialized nations encouraged reducing the emission of greenhouse gases.

Simona Weinglass and AFP contributed to this report.

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