Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has reportedly instructed employees in the state prosecutor’s office to look into allegations that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted 1 million euros (about $1.1 million) from accused French fraudster Arnaud Mimran in 2009.
After an initial probe, state prosecutors and police will decide whether to launch a criminal investigation against Netanyahu, according to Channel 10.
Mimran is currently 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.”
Netanyau’s office denied that the prime minister had received an illegal donation and accused Mimran of trying to distract attention from his own case.
Mimran is accused of being involved in a scheme that involved fraudsters buying carbon credits in EU countries where no 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 prosecutor in the case has requested a 10-year sentence for Mimran as well as the the seizure of 283 million euros of assets from Mimran and the other 11 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.
One of the most dramatic moments in the trial was when Mimran took to the witness stand and declared that he had given Netanyahu 1 million euros. According to a report in French journal Mediapart, 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 group of Israelis among the 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 Netanyahu on March 31, 2009.
At this point, the presiding judge asked Mimran, “You have also funded Netanyahu?”
“That’s what the press claims,” his 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?”
According to Israeli campaign finance laws, it is illegal to raise more than NIS 11,480 (some $3,000 or 2,642 euros) from a single donor for a Knesset run and more than NIS 45,880 (some $12,000 or 10,500 euros) for a campaign to be head of a party.
Following an initial probe by state prosecutors and police, Mandelblit will determine whether or not the case warrants a full-blown criminal investigation.
The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that “Netanyahu did not receive any prohibited donation from Mimran. Any other claim is a lie.”
“Mimran donated to Netanyahu’s public activity in the early 2000s when Mr. Netanyahu was a private citizen and served in no political role,” the statement continued. “This activity included media appearances and public diplomacy trips on behalf of the State of Israel and was done in accordance with the law. Mimran, who is standing trial for fraud on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars, is trying to distract attention away from his trial by another act of deception.”
Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu have recently found themselves embroiled in a series of legal issues surrounding payment for travel abroad and suspected improper use of Prime Minister’s Residence funds.