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Fake news

Lapid, Sudan’s PM and a Malibu-home-for-normalization bribe that never happened

Sudanese media picks up report from fake Israeli site, claiming Yesh Atid chair told Knesset that Hamdok agreed to peace in exchange for $5 million home purchased by Adelson

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

(From L-R) Opposition chairman Yair Lapid poses for a photo at his office in Tel Aviv  21, 2020; Prime Minister of Sudan Abdalla Hamdok addresses the media during a joint statement with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Germany on February 14, 2020; Las Vegas Sands Corporation Chief Executive and Republican mega donor Sheldon Adelson listens as US President Donald Trump speaks at the Israeli American Council National Summit in Hollywood, Florida on December 7, 2019. (Oded Balilty, Michael Sohn, Patrick Semansky/AP)
(From L-R) Opposition chairman Yair Lapid poses for a photo at his office in Tel Aviv 21, 2020; Prime Minister of Sudan Abdalla Hamdok addresses the media during a joint statement with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Germany on February 14, 2020; Las Vegas Sands Corporation Chief Executive and Republican mega donor Sheldon Adelson listens as US President Donald Trump speaks at the Israeli American Council National Summit in Hollywood, Florida on December 7, 2019. (Oded Balilty, Michael Sohn, Patrick Semansky/AP)

Opposition chairman Yair Lapid was forced to issue a statement Friday denying reports that he exposed an alleged bribe at the center of the recently signed normalization agreement between Israel and Sudan.

The reports that have been circulating in Sudan are based on a fake news article that appears to be from the English language site of Ynet news, which quotes Lapid telling a Knesset committee that Sudanese Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok received a $5 million Malibu mansion in exchange for signing the deal.

“Someone is circulating fake news with fabricated comments that I never made about @SudanPMHamdok at a meeting that never happened. I don’t know who is behind it or why they’re doing it but there isn’t a grain of truth to the story,” Lapid tweeted.

He attached to the post a screen capture of an Arabic WhatsApp message with his purported comments.

“Former Israeli finance minister Yair Lapid accused Hamdok of receiving a bribe in exchange for [agreeing to] normalization with Israel,” the text reads.

“The bribe is a house located in Malibu, California belonging to Israeli billionaire Sheldon Adelson, at a price of $5 million,  paid by [Emirati Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Zayed through his Lebanese-American agent George Nader,” the text continues, erroneously referring to the Las Vegas casino magnate as an Israeli when only his wife Miriam is.

The text then gives the address of the home in question, 23506 Malibu Colony Road and a Google Maps link showing that it actually exists.

In addition, a link is provided to a story that appears to be from Ynet. The article is clearly fake, with an address of Ynetnews.org. The real site is Ynetnews.com.

In addition to creating the fake URL, those behind the rather involved effort to embarrass Hamdok wrote an entire story in poor English about a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on the Sudanese normalization agreement that never took place.

The fake report claims Lapid told the panel, “I am informed that Abdalla Hamdok, the prime minister of Sudan, has been gifted one of Sheldon Adelson’s nine houses in Malibu Colony, Malibu, California. The house is worth $5 million.”

A screen capture of a fake article on an alleged bribe that brought about the Israel-Sudan normalization agreement from ‘Ynetnews.org,’ which appears to be a knock-off of Ynetnews.com. (Screen capture)

The made-up Lapid quotes allege that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convinced Adelson to sell Hamdok the home and it was paid for by bin Zayed through his adviser George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman and convicted sex offender.

The article even includes a picture of a mansion credited to a James McClain with supposed exact coordinates to its location. Searches for the name produced obituary articles for a photographer with the same name who died earlier this year.

The Ynetnews.org report was picked up by at least five Arabic news sites in Sudan and those reports have been disseminated by numerous Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Hamdok has not commented on the fake report.

On October 23, US President Donald Trump announced that Sudan would start normalizing ties with Israel with the two set to sign deals covering agriculture, trade, aviation and migration. Sudanese officials have stated that the Trump administration made normalization with Israel a condition for Khartoum to be removed from the State Department’s list of state terror sponsors, which was exposing them to grueling sanctions.

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