French Fraud Verdict Suggests Netanyahu Received Second Donation From Mimran

Judges mention a meeting between the prime minister and the French tycoon in 2009, but Netanyahu still insists only one contribution was made, in 2001.

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

PARIS – The Paris court’s full verdict against Arnaud Mimran includes an extensive discussion of the relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the principal defendant in the fraud scandal dubbed “the sting of the century” – according to the document recently sent to the parties involved for the purpose of submitting an appeal, and whose contents have become known to Haaretz and the French investigative website Mediapart.

The full ruling, which is 292 pages long, cites the reasons for the harsh punishment imposed on Mimran – eight years in prison, a fine of 1 million euros ($1.1 million) and the confiscation of all his property, present and future, up to the sum of 282 million euros, the total damage caused to the public coffers. The court tries to separate the defendant’s false claims of innocence, which were meant to downplay the severity of his actions, from his declarations that were supported by evidence and the testimony of others.

For example, the judges note that they found it impossible to believe Mimran’s story that his frequent trips to Israel were meant “to try to understand” how his partners in the conspiracy were able to produce such hefty profits. In that connection the judges point out that among the true objectives of Mimran’s trips to Israel was a meeting with Netanyahu, noting in their verdict: “The defendant says that during his trip in 2009 he met Netanyahu in a hotel room, where Netanyahu was meeting with a group of associates.”

This testimony by Mimran, which has never been published, contradicts Netanyahu’s claim that he hasn’t met Mimran since their joint vacation in Monaco in the early 2000s.

The full verdict also makes order out of the various stories regarding a financial contribution to Netanyahu from Mimran. Netanyahu admitted in the wake of the Haaretz-Mediapart investigation that he had received a contribution of $40,000 from Mimran, which he said was designated for financing his non-electoral activity, and which was transferred to a special bank account for that purpose in 2001, when he was a private citizen.

But the court’s decision raises the possibility that there were actually two different contributions: one in the early 2000s, as part of Mimran’s extensive “financing” of Netanyahu, and another contribution for financing the 2009 election campaign.

The judges note that a cross-referencing of Mimran’s testimony in all the evidentiary material reveals that his trip to Israel in 2009 – at the height of the fraud that was carried out from leased offices in Tel Aviv and Herzliya – was undertaken for the purpose of a meeting in a hotel with Netanyahu. “That was an election year. I’m close to Netanyahu, to whom I donated $200,000,” Mimran testified.

The verdict thereby confirms the findings of the Haaretz-Mediapart investigation to the effect that Mimran links his payment to Netanyahu to the financing of his election campaign.

As for the second, earlier contribution, according to the verdict, Mimran told the court that in the early 2000s he had transferred money from his personal bank account at Societe Generale in Paris to Netanyahu’s account “to the tune of one million.”

The fact that this statement by Mimran was included in the verdict turns it into an evidentiary statement. On the other hand, the minutes of the discussion lack validity in French law without confirmation from the judges. The verdict therefore reinforces Mimran’s testimony in the court, and for the first time raises the possibility that he transferred at least two payments to Netanyahu, which in any case do not accord, either individually or together, with the prime minister’s version that he received only $40,000 from Mimran.

It should be noted that in the citation regarding the contribution of “one million” as written in the verdict, Mimran does not specify a currency, which strengthens his explanation the following day on Israel’s Channel 10 television that he meant one million French francs. According to calculations by France’s central bank, one million francs in 2000 are equal to about 190,000 euros today. At the official exchange rate for that year, the donation would have been worth 150,000 euros, or $168,000.

PM's reps: 'We stand on facts'

Representatives of Netanyahu said in response, “We stand firmly on the facts: Mimran donated to Netanyahu’s fund for public activity only $40,000, in 2001, when Netanyahu was a private individual. Mimran himself admitted there was no basis to the statements attributed to him regarding other donations. A group photo of Mimran among a group of people is not a meeting, and does not provide a basis for your statement that our response was incorrect.”

The court says that during that period Mimran used to loan his apartment on Victor Hugo Boulevard in Paris to Netanyahu. That apartment has now been confiscated in the wake of the court ruling, and the proceeds from its sale will be added to the repayments imposed on Mimran by the court.

From the Israeli angle, the full verdict in the trial is not the end of the affair but in effect the beginning. In their verdict the judges recommend to the authorities that they extend the investigation in several new directions that came up in the trial, such as the possibility that Mimran’s brother, Benjamin Mimran, was in on the secret of the fraud and benefited from it.

But the most serious investigation to be launched now involves tracing the route of the theft, which is considered the second biggest fraud in history. According to estimates, 80 percent of the money ended up in Israel, and was used for the purchase of real estate in Tel Aviv, Eilat and Givatayim.

The verdict mentions a few of the methods spelled out in the Haaretz-Mediapart investigation, including the use of a private plane with a cargo of 6 million euros in flights from Sde Dov Airport in Tel Aviv to Le Bourget Airport in Paris, via Nice.

Another method by which Mimran laundered the money, which is revealed for the first time in the verdict, was the repayment of a fictitious debt to a subsidiary of the casino in Monaco. According to the verdict, Mimran transferred at least $1 million from his American bank account to the casino, ostensibly as a debt repayment, then flew to Monaco to redeem the transfer in cash, claiming that there had been an innocent mistake.

The verdict also lists Mimran’s frequent trips to casinos in Las Vegas, and raises a possibility that his declared profits in two casinos there were no more than fictitious activity designed to launder the fraudulently obtained money before transferring it to France and Israel.