PARIS – A key witness in a massive French fraud case known as the “sting of the century” is currently hiding out in Israel, a joint investigation by Haaretz and the French website Mediapart has discovered.
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The witness, a French Jew named Jeremy Grinholz who also goes by the name of Eitan Liron, allegedly managed many of the carbon trades that allegedly enabled the defendants to steal 283 million euros from the French government.
Grinholz agreed to turn state’s evidence against his former partners, and the Israeli police deposed him in May 2014. Two senior French police officers were present during his interrogations, and his affidavits ultimately enabled the French to indict several people, including businessman Arnaud Mimran, who frequently hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in France and has also donated to him.
On the last day of his interrogation, Grinholz said he believed Mimran had arranged the assassination of Israeli criminal Samy Souied, the fraudsters’ leader, who was murdered in Paris under mysterious circumstances in December 2010.
Grinholz said that as his suspicions grew, he teamed up with two of Souied’s other partners to force Mimran to take a polygraph test. The polygraph was administered in early 2012 at the Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv. Grinholz said Mimran denied any involvement in Souied’s murder, but the polygraph operators concluded he was lying.
During his own police interrogation, Mimran confirmed having taken a polygraph but said he didn’t remember the results.
The French authorities, hoping to charge Mimran with murder as well as fraud, asked Grinholz to testify at the trial in Paris, but he refused. The French officials then asked their Israeli counterparts to convince Grinholz to return to Paris to testify. The French-Israeli dialogue was conducted by a joint working group set up in 2014, when MK Tzipi Livni was justice minister.
The working group’s biggest success was the transfer to Paris of a French alleged swindler with Israeli citizenship, Cyril Astruc, who was charged with crimes very similar to those of Mimran, though on a smaller scale. Astruc, who was hiding in Herzliya under his Israeli name, Alex Khann, initially refused to heed a recommendation that he return to France. But Israeli police then began “to make his life hell,” as he put it in conversations with associates whose content was obtained by Haaretz-Mediapart.
Police raided his house, searched it for 10 hours and arrested two illegal Filipina workers, he said. Then, when he was involved in a traffic accident that caused no casualties, police interrogated him for hours about whether he was responsible for it. Finally, he was arrested on suspicion of corruption and spent two months in jail.
But only after the front of his house was sprayed with Kalashnikov bullets – apparently by a rival Israeli crime organization – did Astruc tell his friends he “got the hint” and returned to France. There he was arrested at the airport and spent a year and a half in jail before being released with restrictions in 2015.
Grinholz, however, still refused to return, and on April 18, 2015, the French gave up. This was four months after Livni quit the government, so Netanyahu was the acting justice minister.
The French delegation returned to Paris and reported that Grinholz definitely wouldn’t testify at Mimran’s trial. Therefore, his name was added to the indictment, albeit on less serious charges due to his cooperation with investigators. To this day, Mimran hasn’t been questioned about Souied’s murder.
A French Justice Ministry spokesman said the massive fraud case had resulted in numerous French requests for Israeli help. “It could be this cooperation was complicated not only by its sensitivity, but also by its imbalance, since many French criminals are in Israel, whereas Israel rarely makes requests of France,” he said. “Nevertheless, given the differences between the two countries’ legal systems, legal cooperation between the two countries is a daily affair and has improved sharply since the special working group on this issue was established in February 2014.”
The French spokesman declined to answer any of Haaretz-Mediapart’s specific questions, saying the case was now in court, “and only the court can determine what the level of cooperation on this issue was.”
But a French legal source told Haaretz that when the fraud case began, and its dimensions weren’t yet clear, bilateral cooperation was terrible. In 2012, the French investigating judge even filed an official complaint about Israel’s lack of cooperation. That complaint prompted frank bilateral discussions, resulting in a major improvement in 2014, most notably on the Grinholz deposition.
“Could the Israelis, in the absence of any extradition request, which in any case would surely have taken us two or three years, helped us via a deportation procedure or conveying him to the border?” the source continued. “These issues are too complex to be answered one-sidedly.”
In April 2015, the source added, the French realized “that the Israelis couldn’t persuade Grinholz to return to France, unlike in the previous case you mentioned – which isn’t completely comparable, even if it’s about the same crimes. Therefore, we filed an indictment and told the court that Grinholz lives in Israel and refuses to comply with the summons we served him via our Israeli colleagues.”
David Shimron, Netanyahu’s attorney, said, “Prime Minister Netanyahu has no connection to Grinholz or Astruc and has never dealt with their issues, ever. Nor were Mimran’s issues brought to his attention when he was justice minister or at any other time. The justice minister is not involved in criminal cases. Those are dealt with solely by the professionals, the state prosecutor and the attorney general, and the justice minister exercises no real judgment in them. The independence of the prosecution in criminal cases is absolute, and so it was during those few months that circumstances led Prime Minister Netanyahu to hold the justice portfolio.”
A spokesman for the Israeli Justice Ministry said the ministry naturally couldn’t comment on any specific cases that were under discussion between Israeli and French authorities. But he stressed that over the years, there had been continuous cooperation between the two countries in the battle against serious crime. He said the French-Israeli working group still exists, and Israeli prosecutors and police officers participate in it.
An Israel Police spokesman declined to comment on the specifics of Astruc’s accusations against the force, but said the fact that investigations had been opened and indictments filed against several suspects in the case “speaks for itself.”