Just when it seemed that Benjamin Netanyahu’s festive visit to Moscow couldn’t be ruined any further by the Arnaud Mimran affair – which hasn’t died down for a moment – he received a frantic phone call from Arye Dery. When you head a feuding coalition of 66 Knesset members, it’s not pleasant to learn of a coalition crisis from the head of a faction with seven MKs. And it’s even less pleasant when the reason for the crisis was an appointment that Netanyahu himself had made in his role as communications minister – the puzzling appointment of Rami Sadan, a PR agent and former spokesman for Netanyahu’s wife Sara, as chairman of the Channel 10 news division’s board of directors.
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On Tuesday night, channels 10 and 2 both reported another change in Mimran’s story. The French billionaire, who is now standing trial in France on charges of massive fraud, was once a close friend of the Netanyahus who generously financed them and hosted them in Paris and elsewhere in France. He now claims he may have forgotten the facts, and doesn’t rule out the possibility that Netanyahu and his lawyer, David Shimron, are correct in saying that he transferred $40,000 to Netanyahu’s public benefit corporation rather than 170,000 euros to Netanyahu’s personal bank account.
In the legal world, stories that change repeatedly are suspicious. They may indicate the influence of outside considerations or the intervention of a third party seeking help of some sort.
Ostensibly, Mimran’s revised story helps Netanyahu. But on the other hand, just a few days ago, Netanyahu’s people were calling Mimran a cheat and a liar; if so, why believe him now? And which Mimran should we believe – the man who testified in court, the one who was interviewed by Channel 10 Monday night, or the one whose memory was jogged on Tuesday?
All these questions could be answered very simply and easily by a bank statement or some other official document that would show the date, amount and destination of Mimran’s donation. As long as no such document is produced, the issue will continue to interest journalists in both Israel and France and hover over the prime minister like a cloud.
Based on what has been reported to date, the chances of the latest Netanyahu scandal resulting in an indictment range from slim to nonexistent, since the statute of limitations has already expired. And over here, anything that isn’t criminal will pass – especially among Likud party voters, who have repeatedly forgiven their leader after every new revelation about another facet of his infinite hedonism on the tab of tycoons around the world, which rivals only his legendary stinginess about shelling out his own money.
On Tuesday night, at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose poker face undoubtedly hid great astonishment, Netanyahu declared that in his view, the issue is closed and it’s time to move on. “The mountain turned out to be a molehill, if that,” he declared. “Nothing will come of this, because there’s nothing there... It’s another attempt to hurt me politically.”
Nice try. With the exception of one Israeli newspaper, no media outlet worthy of the name will neglect this story until it becomes clear whether it’s a molehill, a mountain, or something in between.