Netanyahu Aide Said PM Panicked, Told Her to Return Salary Paid by U.S. Group

Recordings allegedly reveal former Netanyahu adviser Odelia Karmon's salary was covered by American Friends of Likud. According to Karmon, the prime minister eventually demanded she return the money received from the U.S. nonprofit and paid her more than $12,500 from his private bank account.

Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz
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From clockwise: Odelia Karmon, Ari Harow, David Shimron and Benjamin Netanyahu.
From clockwise: Odelia Karmon, Ari Harow, David Shimron and Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Rami Zarnegar, Daniel Bar On and Marc Israel Sellem
Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz

“Bibi went into insane hysteria, suddenly. I don’t know who whispered to him, after all, you can light him up like a flame ... and then he said to me: Odelia, give back the money.” The quote is from a recording, in the possession of the police, in which Odelia Karmon, then a foreign affairs adviser to then-chairman of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu, described the details of an imbroglio surrounding the prime minister.

Investigators suspect that Karmon worked for Netanyahu for a year, but was actually paid by the American Friends of Likud. The nonprofit was headed at the time by Ari Harow, who went on to become chief of staff in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Karmon’s employment by Netanyahu was discovered during police efforts to gather evidence that the nonprofit served as a conduit for funds to pay for the prime minister’s personal needs.

While senior officials in the police and the prosecution believe that further investigation should be made into the circumstances surrounding Karmon’s employment, because of the suspicion that Netanyahu committed acts of deception and fraud, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit decided to halt the probe.

Mendelblit believed that there was no chance that at the end of the probe evidence would emerge against Netanyahu of commission of a crime that would exceed the 10-year statue of limitations. The police discovered during their probe that American Friends of Likud funded airline tickets for Sara Netanyahu and employed Karmon in a manner suspected of being fictive: She did not work for the association, which mainly deals in education and contributions to which enjoy tax exempt status, but rather for opposition chairman Netanyahu.

While gathering evidence, recordings reached the police in which Karmon is heard reconstructing the events in question. In the recordings she says that she worked for Netanyahu for about a year but American Friends of Likud paid her salary. To receive the money she was in contact with Harow. “Ari was unfortunate. The chairman of the party says transfer the money so he does. A guy who is afraid of his own shadow,” Karmon related, adding that Harow “‘greased’ Netanyahu in many ways. Flight tickets or whenever Netanyahu was is a bind. But not in exchange for anything. He was honest and sweet. He was simply helpless.”

Karmon related how one of her payments was arranged: “He had a trip abroad ... I received an envelope, I don’t like such things, I’m an honest person.”

During the months Karmon worked alongside Netanyahu, Harow sent her a letter thanking her for her activities on behalf of the association. According to the letter, the high point of Karmon’s activity was a meeting between Netanyahu’s traditional American donors and the opposition chairman.

After almost a year in which she served as Netanyahu’s close adviser, she said Netanyahu became anxious over the roundabout way she was employed.

“He was in a panic ... he told me Odelia, so they won’t be able to talk, give back the money.” According to Karmon, Netanyahu then paid her more than 50,000 shekels ($12,500) from his private bank account. The purpose was allegedly to obscure the payment from the American nonprofit and create the impression that Karmon had worked both for him and for the association. On its face, it appeared to be a clumsy attempt at obfuscation. At around that time he had Karmon, in a meeting with attorney David Shimron, sign a letter addressed to the American organization in which she informed them that she was returning part of the money paid her because she had in fact worked for them less than what was agreed on. “Bibi forced Shimron to write a letter that I write to the association. ‘Thank you very much for paying me but because I did not do so much work I’m returning the money.’ Is there anything more stupid?” Karmon asked her interlocutor rhetorically, adding, “I don’t know what somebody fed him and what somebody scared him and what paranoia attacked him.”

In fact, such a letter from Karmon was sent to Harow in which she informs him that she had decided to return tens of thousands of shekels because she had worked less than originally planned. At some point Netanyahu’s payment became known to his wife, Sara. “She was upset ... she said I took her children’s food. I proposed that we meet to clarify the picture but Netanyahu didn’t let her speak to me. He is afraid of all the things I know. All the secrets.”

Karmon wanted to return Netanyahu’s payment, feeling that she didn’t deserve it. To that end, she arranged to meet with Shimron in the lawyer’s office. “He told me turn off the recorder. I told him, ‘David how can you say something like that. Since then Netanyahu wouldn’t take a shekel from me. I’m uncomfortable. You don’t know how many times I tried to give him back the money.” Karmon expresses her opinion about Netanyahu. “With [former Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert there are no rules. Bibi has a God. But there is no limits to the piggishness.”

She described her work with the Netanyahus as being “like Russian roulette. Nobody gets out alive,” Karmon said.

“It’s all nonsense. Since Netanyahu’s victory in the last election and even before them, elements hostile to the prime minister are making major efforts to bring down the prime minister by making false accusations against him and his family,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. “These elements in the media and their agents and exacting unceasing pressure on the police, the prosecution and the attorney general to launch a criminal investigation against the prime minister. Their baseless claims are an utter lie and the will be shown to be fabrications. We reiterate: there was nothing, there will be nothing — because there is nothing.”

Attorney Roy Blecher, who is representing Harow, declined to respond for this report, as did Karmon. Shimron’s response could not be obtained.

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