Contradicting PM, French businessman says he gave Netanyahu $193,000
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Contradicting PM, French businessman says he gave Netanyahu $193,000

Netanyahu’s lawyer denies funds were deposited in private bank account, says ‘unfounded claims… will prove to be full of hot air’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

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, said Monday that he gave Prime Minister Benjamin 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.

Netanyahu’s lawyer and long-time close associate David Shimron flat-out rejected the claims Monday.

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, 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)

Rejecting Mimran’s latest claims, Shimron said that the allegations would be “proved as baseless and unfounded.”

“As the person who ran the fund for Mr. Netanyahu’s public activities when he was a private citizen, I can say with complete certainty that the exact amount that was transferred by Mr. Mimran was $40,000. The amount was transferred to the account of the fund on August 24, 2001,” he said in a statement.

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.

“This latest attempt to damage the prime minister with unfounded claims blown up by the media will also prove to be full of hot air,” Shimron added, in an apparent reference to a string of recent accusations regarding financial misconduct on behalf of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.

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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