PARIS - Arnaud Mimran, the main suspect in the great theft dubbed “the sting operation of the century,” testified on Thursday at a Paris court that he funded expenses of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in France, as well as directly funding election campaign expenses amounting to one million Euros. Netnahyahu vehemently denied the report.
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According to the law governing campaign contributions and instructions issued by the state comptroller, a Knesset candidate is entitled to accept donations from any individual totaling no more than 11,480 shekels ($2,970). In elections for leadership of a party or in internal party primaries, in which there are more than 50,000 voters, a candidate can accept individual donations of up to 45,880 shekels ($11,870).
Mimran is suspected of stealing at least 282 million euros from the French Finance Ministry through a deception involving the rolling over value-added tax in deals relating to carbon dioxide capping. The focus of the court discussion on Thursday was to determine whether senior figures have succeeded until now in protecting Mimran from being indicted. In this context, Mimran’s close relations with Benjamin Netanyahu came up.
A joint investigation by Haaretz and the French website Mediapart, published last month, showed that Mimran financed vacations for Netanyahu and his family in the Alps and on the French Riviera. Mimran also lent Netanyahu his apartment in the 16th arrondissement in Paris, taking him to a prestigious nightclub during Netanyahu’s visit to Paris. Arnaud’s name features prominently in the list of foreign donors that was compiled by Netanyahu on the eve of his return to power, as published by journalist Raviv Drucker on Channel 10 News.
In addition to these expenses, Mimran has now testified that he signed a cheque for financing an earlier Netanyahu election campaign, in 2001, as far as he remembers. “I financed him to the tune of about one million euros,” he said.
Mimran’s declaration came while he was being questioned on the witness stand about the extent of his expenses. His testimony revealed that most of his assets are not registered in his name. He explained to the judge: “The Rolls Royce is in my wife’s name, the McLaren is in my sister’s name. Only the Ferrari and Maserati are registered in my name.” This playing innocent caused quite a furor in the courtroom.
Mimran’s testimony also brought up for the first time the fate of the French-Israeli criminal Sami Sweid, who was suspected of money laundering at a Bank Hapoalim branch on Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv. Sweid was murdered before a scheduled nighttime meeting with Mimran, and the prosecutor hinted that police suspect that Mimran was somehow involved in that assassination.
Legal sources told Haaretz that the transfer of a million Euros and covering personal expenses of a foreign politician are not illegal in France so that the prosecution will not devote much attention to the matter. Netanyahu’s friendship with someone suspected of carrying out the largest theft in European history will crop up again during the trial in relation to the impact of Mimran’s numerous friendships on the affair.
Jonathan Lis contributed to this report.