Prosecutors in the Paris trial of Arnaud Mimran and 11 other men accused of carbon VAT fraud in a case referred to in France as the “heist of the century” made their closing arguments last Thursday. Prosecutor Patrice Amar requested 10 years in prison and a million euro fine for each of the three alleged masterminds, Arno Mimran, Marco Mouly and Jaroslaw Klapucki.
In addition, the prosecutor asked for the seizure of €283 million of assets from the 12 defendants, five of whom are reported to have fled to Israel under the Law of Return — which grants citizenship to individuals of Jewish ancestry — and who did not present themselves at their trial.
In 2008-2009, the French government lost approximately €1.8 billion to a scheme that involved fraudsters buying carbon credits in EU countries where no VAT (value added tax) was charged, and reselling them in France while charging 19.6 percent VAT but never remitting that tax money to the government.
The five defendants living in Israel are named in the French press as Eddie Abittan, Michael Haik, Gabriel Cohen, Jeremy Grinholz and Frederic Sebag. The prosecutor requested 5-6 years in prison and a million euro fine for each of them. Should they be sentenced, it is unclear whether the Israeli government will extradite them to serve their terms.
The defense is currently making its closing remarks, after which the judge will render a decision.
One of the most dramatic moments in the trial was when accused fraud mastermind Arnaud Mimran took to the witness stand and declared that he had given Benjamin Netanyahu €1 million. Netanyahu’s office denied the claim, and a lawyer for Netanyahu denied on Israel’s Army Radio that he had taken that amount. Netanyahu did admit to the Haaretz daily in an April 15 report that he had accepted money from Mimran in the past.
What made him say it?
A May 19 article in French online investigative journal Mediapart describes in detail the context and lead-up to Arnaud Mimran’s startling announcement that approximately 15 years ago he funded Netanyahu to the tune of €1 million.
According to the report, Mimran was being grilled on the witness stand over a dozen trips he took to Israel at the height of the scam, in 2009. Seeking to dissociate himself from the Israeli branch of alleged fraudsters, Mimran told the court that some of the trips were vacations with his family, others were for personal leisure and one trip was motivated by the inauguration of Benjamin Netanyahu on March 31, 2009.
At this point, the presiding judge asked Mimran, “You have also funded Netanyahu?”
“That’s what the press claims,” a lawyer interjected.
“No, it is on record in the criminal file,” replied the judge.
To which Mimran replied, “I paid him a million.”
“Was that a loan that was repaid?”
The report in Mediapart concluded: “We therefore deduce that Arnaud Mimran, currently at the heart of several serious criminal investigations in France (homicides and a kidnapping case) funded political activities of the current Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
Mimran is also under investigation in France for kidnapping and extorting a Swiss banker, but to date has only been charged with fraud.
The French newspaper Liberation has reported Arnaud Mimran’s donation of €1 million to Netanyahu as if it were an established fact and not merely an assertion by Mimran himself. Liberation referred to the Israeli prime minister on May 26 as “Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Arnaud Mimran had paid one million euros in the early 2000s before he again became prime minister of Israel.”
The French court did not follow up on the question of the money donated to Netanyahu, since it was not directly relevant to the case before it.
However, on May 19 Knesset member Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) requested that Israel’s attorney general and state comptroller investigate whether Netanyahu did in fact receive the money.
“If Mimran’s testimony is true,” Svetlova wrote in her request, “it would constitute a crude violation of the integrity expected of an elected representative, in particular of the office of prime minister.”
Svetlova added, “The smell of corruption is wafting far and wide. The state comptroller has ruled, as Netanyahu and his lawyers know very well, that it is illegal to raise more than NIS 11,480 (some $3,000) from a single donor for a Knesset run and more than NIS 45,880 (some $12,000) for a campaign to be head of a party.”