Paris Private Clubs and Pricey Ski Trips, Investigation Reveals Ties Between French Criminal and Netanyahu

Arnaud Mimran is under investigation for theft, kidnapping and extortion. He was also a close friend and donor of Benjamin Netanyahu’s for years, underwriting the Israeli leader’s family vacations and hosting him in private clubs, according to a joint investigation of Haaretz and the French website Mediapart.

Dov Alfon
Dov Alfon
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Netanyahu dining in a restaurant with the Mimran family. The relationship started with the father, Jacques Mimran (left, looking at the camera), who was convicted of bribery in a different case.
Netanyahu with the Mimran family. The relationship started with the father, Jacques Mimran (left, looking at the camera), who was convicted of bribery in a different case. Credit: © Mediapart, all rights reserved. Published in Haaretz by special permission.
Dov Alfon
Dov Alfon

PARIS — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s name has once again cropped up in the investigation of one of the most grave and complex criminal affairs in France, dubbed the “sting of the century.” A joint investigative report by Haaretz and the French investigative website Mediapart has revealed new findings regarding the alleged financial and social connections between Netanyahu and Arnaud Mimran, who is the main suspect in the theft of hundreds of millions of euros and is also suspected of involvement in the kidnapping of a Swiss banker.

As previously published in Haaretz, Mimran is suspected of stealing at least 282 million euros of public funds. Haaretz published a picture of Netanyahu enjoying a joint vacation with Mimran in Monaco in August 2003, after Mimran had already been convicted of tax offenses in other cases. The report pointed out the close relationship between Mimran and Netanyahu’s unofficial representative in France, Meyer Habib, a member of the French Parliament.

The investigation has now found new information concerning Mimran, including that he is also suspected of involvement in the kidnapping of a Swiss banker in the heart of the 16th arrondissement of Paris, imprisoning the banker, and threatening him in order to extort from him the shares of a company in which he was a partner with Mimran. The Paris district prosecutor has now filed another separate indictment in court against Mimran.

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

In the protocol of the investigation, which was filed with the indictment and is being published here for the first time, the investigating judge asks Mimran in jail about his activities around the time he was arrested in May 2015. Mimran answers that he was the marketing manager of a private club named the Ken Club in the 16th arrondissement, one of the most expensive places in the city; and he earned 10,000 euros a month.

The judge asked Mimran why he was qualified to serve as the marketing manager for such a club, and Mimran replied: “I brought a lot of famous people to the club, and this improved its image; people such as Mr. Netanyahu, so the owners were very pleased.”

It is clear from the protocol that this answer surprised the judge, who continued to press Mimran on the question: “These are people you are friendly with?”

Mimran: Yes.

Judge: They are your friends?

Mimran: Yes. I brought famous soccer players to the club too, such as Christophe Dugarry, Marcel Desailly.

Judge: Netanyahu is the Netanyahu who is the prime minister of Israel?

Mimran: Yes, it is him.

Judge: And he came to this club?

Mimran: Regarding him, he was then between things, he was the former prime minister and was waiting to be prime minister in the future. During this period he would come to France and sometimes we would go together for a vacation in southern France. When he was in Paris, he lived at my place.

Mimran is characterized as a vicious and manipulative gangster in the new indictment, someone who is not afraid to use violence to achieve his goals.

The indictment tells the story of the Swiss banker, Mimran’s partner, who arrived in Paris on January 15, 2015 in order to meet Mimran at his invitation. The banker left the Raphael Hotel to meet with Mimran, and was kidnapped by four men dressed as police officers. They took him to an apartment where he was held, threatened and beaten until he agreed to sell his shares in the company in which he and Mimran were partners.

The main suspect, Arnaud Mimran (right) with Meyer Habib, a member of the French Parliament and confidant of Netanyahu. Credit: © Mediapart, all rights reserved. Published in Haaretz by special permission

When it turned out the stock exchange in New York was closed at the time he agreed to sign a sell order for the shares, his kidnappers accused him of trying to deceive them. Three more men appeared in the apartment, accompanied by Mimran, who pretended to have also been kidnapped by the men. Mimran told the banker he too had been kidnapped and was told to sell his shares, and he pressured his partner to sell before something bad happened to them and their families.

In the end the victim agreed to sign the sell order and was released. He filed a complaint with the police, and investigators began to suspect that Mimran was behind the kidnapping. One of the kidnappers was arrested and confessed, but refused to testify against Mimran, saying “he is capable of anything.” In the end, the indictment was based on other testimony and by tracking Mimran’s cell phone, which placed him at the site of the kidnapping.

This is the man who said he is friends with the past, and future, prime minister of Israel. The close relationship between the two is clear not just from the testimony in the case, but can be seen too in Netanyahu’s own handwriting: On the list of contributors Netanyahu put together in 2002, which was published by Raviv Drucker on Channel 10, Mimran’s name appears on the list of the most important donors.

On the page of French contributors, which is being published here for the first time, the name Meyer Habib appears, followed on the list by someone identified only by a first name, Arnaud. He is the only millionaire on the list Netanyahu calls by his first name. Haaretz found that the telephone number of Arnaud is Mimran’s own cell phone number.

When the list of Netanyahu’s donors was published, along with the frequent trips they underwrote for him, Drucker questioned such generosity on his investigative show “Hamakor” (“The Source”): “According to the document we have in our hands, between August 1999 and June 2001, Sara Netanyahu was outside of Israel on 24 different trips. Her airline tickets were paid for by others such as the Jewish National Fund, [American businessman] Tony Gelbart, wealthy [American real estate developer] Charley Kushner, and Meyer Habib from France; all together they paid, in less than two years, $108,000 to the former prime minister’s wife.”

Fabrice Arfi, a journalist from Mediapart working on the story, has found new evidence that Mimran not only hosted Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu in Paris and in the south of France, but also paid for a family vacation at the Courchevel ski resort in the French Alps.

The relations between the three: Mimran, Habib and Netanyahu are expected to play a role in the court case in France, but should interest Israelis too. Whether these connections continued when Netanyahu became foreign minister in 2002 and then finance minister, and prime minister again in 2009, as the evidence shows — or whether they ended, as the Prime Minister’s Bureau claims — it is clear that Mimran was already a convicted criminal at the time Netanyahu spent time with him at vacation spots and private clubs, and this could cause great damage in the future.

Actually, not just in the future: The indictment states that back in 2000, years before the vacations with Netanyahu in Monaco, Paris and Courchevel, Mimran was investigated on suspicions of insider trader in the United States, and agreed to pay, along with his partners, a $1.2 million fine. He left Wall Street and focused on Europe, as the French taxpayer has so painfully discovered.

The evidence gathered shows that Netanyahu knew very well who he was friends with, because he got to know not only Arnaud Mimran but also his father Jacques Mimran, a real estate tycoon who was at the head of a major corruption affair known as the “Great Trains Robbery.” The elder Mimran bribed dozens of French and Belgian officials in order to win an inflated tender for laying the high-speed rail line between Belgium and France from 1987 to 1996. He continued to have great influence even after that: A Mediapart investigation found that the senior Mimran was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 2006, with the influence of a minister who said he did not know of Jacques Mimran’s conviction. The award was cancelled in a humiliating court decision in 2009.

In another photograph Haaretz has obtained, being shown here for the first time, Netanyahu can be seen with the Mimran family, including Jacques, in a Chinese restaurant favored by the Mimrans — the same restaurant where Arnaud Mimran sat in January 2015, according to the latest indictment, in an attempt to create an alibi for himself while his partner was being kidnapped.

Habib is liable to be questioned about whether he paid for an ostentatious trip for his “best friend” (“He is like a brother to me,” Habib told Drucker about Netanyahu) and family with money from a private company — without any clear connection to the company’s objectives.

In 2003, Jacques Mimran was sentenced to three years’ probation and a 200,000 euro fine. On May 2, Arnaud Mimran will appear in court to start his trial. He has another indictment hanging over his head, and he is under investigation in three other criminal cases in various affairs. But Netanyahu is acting as if nothing has happened, as his vacation pal described him so well, always “between one thing and another.”

The Prime Minister’s Office said in response: “Mr. Netanyahu knew nothing about any legal or criminal problem of the members of the Mimran family at the time he was in contact with them as a private citizen starting in 2000. At that time they were a respectable family in the Jewish community who supported Israel.”

In response to Haaretz’s questions, “after an additional in-depth examination concerning this distant period from 15 years ago, it turns out that at the time Arnaud Mimran donated for the benefit of Mr. Netanyahu’s public activities, when he was not in any political position. This activity included media appearances and many public relations trips overseas for the benefit of Israel and were conducted according to the law. The list of ‘donors’ mentioned in your question, which was prepared a few years later, was only a list of potential donors,” said the PMO.

“Jacques Mimran, the father mentioned as a suspect in your question, received the French Legion of Honor award rom the French finance minister. To the best of our knowledge, French law forbids receiving this honor by someone convicted of a crime. If the French government did not know of any conviction of Jacques Mimran, Mr. Netanyahu certainly was not able to know anything about it, and he did not know. We would like to emphasize once again that Mr. Netanyahu did not intervene in any stage of the legal proceedings on the behalf of any members of the Mimran family,” said the PMO.

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