Alleged French Fraudster Received 50 Million Euros in Israel, Prosecution Says

On trial for fraud in Paris, tycoon Arnaud Mimran testifies to contributing one million euros to Benjamin Netanyahu's election campaign.

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 Benjamin Netanyahu with Arnaud Mimran. Monte Carlo, Monaco. 2003
Benjamin Netanyahu with Arnaud Mimran. Monte Carlo, Monaco. 2003Credit: Mediapart, all rights reserved. Published in Haaretz by special permission

The prosecution in the fraud trial of French tycoon Arnaud Mimran in Paris believes that at least 50 million euros of the 283 million euros he is suspected of stealing from French taxpayers were paid to him in Israel.

Details of Mimran's ties with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have come to light during the ongoing trial, including testimony by Mimran that he contributed about one million euros to one of Netanyahu's election campaigns.

Spokesmen for Netanyahu have described Mimran's testimony as "lies and falsehoods."

Mimran is one of 12 suspects in a massive fraud scheme that involved buying carbon credits in EU countries where no value added tax was charged and charging 19.6 percent VAT when reselling them in France. The tax money was never remitted to the government.

Six of the suspects are French Jews who fled to Israel prior to the trial and are reported to have received Israeli citizenship. France has requested their extradition, though Israel rarely deports citizens. The Paris weekly news magazine L'Obs named them as Alexander Bernshtein, Gabriel Cohen, Michael Haik, Jeremy Grinholz, Eddie Abittan and Frederic Sebag.

In his closing arguments at the fraud trial on Thursday, prosecutor Patrice Amar requested 10 years in prison and a million euro fine for each of the three alleged masterminds, Mimran, Marco Mouly and Jaroslaw Klapucki. The court is expected to announce its judgement on July 7.

The prosecution also asked the court to put a lien on the assets of all the accused in order to return the fraudulently earned 283 million euros to the French treasury.

According to material in the possession of Haaretz and the French investigative journal Mediapart, Mimran is believed to have received the 50 million euros in cash from French-Israeli criminal Sami Sweid, during his frequent visits to Israel.

Part of the sum was invested in Israeli banks and the rest smuggled back to France aboard Mimran's private jet, according to the material.

Sweid, who was one of the suspects in a money laundering case at a Bank Hapoalim branch on Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv, was murdered before a scheduled nighttime meeting with Mimran in Paris.

In a related case, a district court in Paris this week denied Mimran's claim for damages against Mediapart for its publication in April of a photograph showing Mimran and Netanyahu vacationing together in Monaco in 2002.

In rejecting Mimran's claim of invasion of privacy, the court ruled that Netanyahu was "a political personality of the top order who today serves as prime minister of Israel."

The joint Haaretz-Mediapart investigation "raises hard question regarding the possible links between [Mimran], Benjamin Netanyahu and French parliamentarian Meir Habib," which justify the publication of the photograph, the court ruled.

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