PARIS — A Paris court on Thursday convicted and sentenced Arnaud Mimran in a massive carbon-tax fraud dubbed “the sting of the century” by French media outlets.
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Mimran claimed in the course of the investigation that he donated $200,000 to Benjamin Netanyahu for the latter’s 2009 election campaign. The prime minister says the only money he ever received from the French businessman was a $40,000 donation in 2001.
Mimran, the main suspect in a trial with a dozen defendants, received an eight-year prison sentence and a 1-million-euro fine. In addition, personal assets up to the value of 283 million euros — the loss to tax revenue as a result of his offenses — will be forfeited to the state.
The court accepted nearly all the recommendations of prosecutor Patrice Amar, who had requested a 10-year sentence for Mimran. The judges also denied Mimran’s request for a stay of sentence pending an appeal, and after the sentence was read out he was taken to prison in handcuffs.
Six of Mimran’s codefendants were French Jews who were tried in absentia, having fled to Israel before the trial began. They reportedly received Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, and the French government has filed extradition requests.
Four of the other five defendants failed to appear for judgment and sentencing on Thursday, causing a minor courtroom drama. It was thought that they too — all of them French Jews with bank accounts in Israel, as well as numerous relatives and acquaintances — had fled to Israel.
Mimran, in a final and characteristic act of defiance, entered the courtroom after the judges were already seated, moments before the bailiff declared him absent as well.
The complete ruling was expected to be released later on Thursday. The head of the panel of judges read out a shorter version, stating at the outset that the court decided to impose harsh sentences in light of the “extensive harm to taxpayers” resulting from the fraud as well as the “great sophistication of this criminal organization, which may be unprecedented in the history of financial crimes.”
Turning to face, Mimran, the head judge said, “The court found that it cannot believe your feigned proclamation of innocence, according to which your visits to the center of the fraudulent operations in Israel were a coincidence.” He added: “Mister Mimran, you led this fraud, albeit in partnership with the head of the Israeli gang Sami Sweid, who was later murdered in uncertain circumstances. You contributed significantly and knowingly to the organization and to the extent of money that was moved around. You are the main person responsible for the theft of enormous amounts from the pockets of French taxpayers.”
Other defendants also received stiff sentences. The French-Israeli real-estate broker Eddie Abittan, who was tried in absentia and is believed to be in Israel, received a six-year custodial sentence — longer than prosecutors had requested. He was also fined 1 million euros and ordered to forfeit his assets. An Interpol arrest warrant was issued for Abittan and the other defendants who were convicted and who are presumed to be in Israel.
Only one defendant was acquitted on all charges: Alexander Bernshtein, an Israeli citizen and the CEO of Albercom Finance Services. The court accepted his lawyer’s argument that the state failed to prove criminal intent or that his client had violated Israeli laws. His company, which specializes in currency transfers, was also exonerated.
Marco Mouly, the trial’s No. 2 defendant was convicted on all counts. Like Mimran, he received an eight-year prison sentence, a fine of 1 million euros and the forfeiture of all his assets. Mouly failed to appear in court Thursday, having presumably fled to Israel after reporting to a police station on Wednesday, as required by his terms of release. When police searched his home they found several passports, at least one of which had been reported stolen. In addition to French and Israeli citizenship, Mouly has Tunisian citizenship and he has many financial assets in Israel and Switzerland.
The trial’s No. 3 defendant, Jaroslaw Klapucki, the CEO of the French arm of Poland-headquartered emissions brokerage Consus, was sentenced to seven years in prison and fined 1 million euros. Consus was convicted of money laundering and was fined 3 million euros.
The court found that Mouly and Klapucki founded MK Holdings as a phantom company incorporated in Israel for the purpose of laundering the profits from the fraud. Haaretz previously reported that there was no evidence that such a company had been registered or had operated in Israel.
The lesser codefendants, some of them relatives of Mouly, did not appear in court and some are thought to be in Israel. They received prison sentence of between one and five years. It’s not clear whether prosecutors will request their extradition.
Surprise was evident in the courtroom when the sentence of the key witness in the trial was read out. Jeremy Grinholz is hiding out in Israel under the name Eitan Liron. The court admitted that without his testimony, which he delivered to the fraud unit of the Israel Police, the prosecution would have found it difficult to dismantle the criminal organization at the center of the affair, but the judges ruled that this was insufficient to warrant reducing his punishment.
“He was the group’s programmer, who enabled the enormous scope of this fraud and the lightning speed at which selling orders were executed. Without his skills this organization would have been cut down to its natural size,” the judges said.
The court ordered prosecutors to start investigating additional offenses that surfaced during the trial. It did not detail the new allegations, with the exception of the suspicion that Mimran’s brother and parents were party to the fraud. The court stayed the confiscation of a building in the 16th arrondissement of Paris that the family owns until an investigation of its purchase is complete. Netanyahu has called the Mimrans a respectable Jewish family.
With reporting from AP