Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has held intensive discussions in recent weeks on several cases involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in order to determine whether they warrant criminal investigations or indictments.
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The discussions, whose participants include senior prosecutors and sometimes police officers, relate to three main issues: spending at the prime minister’s residences, overseas trips by Netanyahu during his term as finance minister in 2003-05, and donations to him by French businessman and suspected fraudster Arnaud Mimran, which were first reported by Haaretz. All three raise suspicions of financial impropriety.
People familiar with the discussions said Mendelblit wants to make a decision on all three quickly, as well as on existing police investigations against Interior Minister Arye Dery (Shas) and opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union). One source said there’s currently a lot of “bustle” in the Attorney General’s Office about the Netanyahu cases.
Haaretz asked the Justice Ministry whether these are the only potential cases involving Netanyahu that Mendelblit is examining, but the ministry refused to respond.
Two weeks ago, the police recommended indicting Netanyahu’s wife Sara over spending at the prime minister’s residences. The prime minister isn’t a suspect in this case, but his wife is suspected of charging personal expenses to the state. She denies the allegations.
In the so-called Bibi-Tours case, involving Netanyahu’s overseas trips, a preliminary examination conducted by the police during the tenure of Mendelblit’s predecessor, Yehuda Weinstein, concluded that no criminal investigation was warranted. But State Comptroller Joseph Shapira subsequently uncovered additional material about these trips and concluded that they raise “suspicions that criminal acts were committed.” Thus Mendelblit is now revisiting the case.
The Mimran affair began with the businessman’s own testimony to a French court, where he is standing trial on charges of defrauding the state of millions of euros. He told the court he had donated one million euros to Netanyahu’s election campaign, which, if true, would raise suspicions of campaign finance violations and other offenses on Netanyahu’s part. But since then, Mimran has changed his story twice, and it’s still not clear when or even if he made this donation.
In his court testimony, Mimran described a trip to Israel in 2009 during which he met with Netanyahu. One of the judges responded, “Indeed, in the evidence file there is record of your payment to him.” Mimran’s lawyer objected, saying this information “only appeared in a newspaper,” but the judge retorted, “No, dear sir, it certainly appears in the evidence file here in front of me.”
Israeli law enforcement agencies will now presumably try to locate the evidence to which the judge referred to see if Mimran indeed gave Netanyahu one million euros, and if so, when.
Though Netanyahu has acknowledged receiving money from Mimran, he claims the amount was much lower – just $40,000 – and that the money went not to his political campaigns, but to a public benefit corporation he established during a three-year time-out from politics after losing the 1999 prime ministerial election. “There’s nothing to this affair,” he told a press conference in Moscow earlier this week.
But Haaretz has learned that this corporation, which was ostensibly established to fund Netanyahu’s efforts to explain Israel’s policies overseas, also financed political polls for him. Moreover, it wasn’t registered as a nonprofit, but as a business. The corporation’s registration number is the same as the personal ID number of Netanyahu’s lawyer, David Shimron, who held the corporation in trust for Netanyahu.
In the multifaceted Dery case, Mendelblit is scrutinizing real estate deals in Europe conducted by Dery’s lawyer brother, Shlomo, together with businessman James Schlaff, the brother of Austrian tycoon Martin Schlaff. Martin Schlaff was once suspected of paying millions in bribes to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a case ultimately closed because Sharon fell into a coma and never woke up.
Police have already questioned Shlomo Dery and other Dery relatives under caution, as people who might be charged with a crime. The tax authorities are also involved in this investigation.
The Herzog case, in contrast, revolves around one single question: whether Herzog knew about the donation that a businessman he was friendly with made to his primary campaign for the Labor Party’s leadership in 2013. The donation was never reported to the state comptroller as required by law.
Though police originally leaked that they would recommend closing the case, subsequent discussions by Mendelblit and his staff instead resulted in them questioning Herzog under caution a second time. A decision on whether to indict is expected shortly.