French Tycoon Mimran Takes Back Claim He Gave Massive Donation to Netanyahu

Businessman and suspected fraudster, who initially said he gave prime minister a million euros to finance a political campaign, tells Channel 2 that 'everything Bibi is saying is true.'

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

French businessman Arnaud Mimran has changed his story for a second time, retracting his claims that he gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 170,000 euros, Channel 2 reported on Tuesday evening. 

Mimran, who is currently standing trial in France on charges of defrauding the state of hundreds of millions of dollars, said during his court testimony that he had given Netanyahu a million euros. Later, he changed his version, telling Channel 10 that the sum was 170,000 euros, transferred to Netanyahu's personal bank account. 

Though he insisted that he had records of the bank transfer, on Tuesday he said that he may have been wrong, and that the sum was in fact only $40,000, as Netanyahu claimed. 

"Everything that Bibi is saying is true," he told Channel 2, adding that he may have gotten the sum wrong after 10 years. "In any case, Bibi didn't do anything illegal." Mimran added that the sum of money he gave Netanyahu, together with the cost of vacations that he invited Netanyahu to in Monaco and the French Alps amounted to a million francs, which is about 150,000 euros.

Netanyahu originally denied having received any money from Mimran, a close friend. But he later said the French businessman had contributed $40,000 to a public-benefit corporation which Netanyahu set up to finance his public diplomacy work on Israel’s behalf during his time-out from politics.

In Moscow, Netanyahu responded to earlier reports at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and called the affair "systematic political persecution."

"The mountain has given birth to a mouse. The balloon has been deflated," he said, referring to the Hebrew equivalent of making a mountain out of a molehill. Netanyahu said that despite reports that he received a million euro campaign donation in 2009, the money he received from Mimran was a legal donation for a public diplomacy foundation in 2001, when he was a private citizen. 

Netanyahu’s attorney, David Shimron, said that “as the person who ran Mr. Netanyahu’s foundation for public activity when he was a private citizen, I can state in the clearest possible manner that the exact sum given by Mr. Arnaud Mimran was $40,000.” Mimran, in an earlier interview with Channel 10 television, said he had transferred 170,000 euros to Netanyahu’s personal bank account.

According to Shimron, the $40,000 donation was made by interbank wire transfer directly to the foundation’s bank account on August 24, 2001. He denied that Mimran had given any additional money to the foundation, adding that “no money at all was transferred to Netanyahu’s personal account, nor was any amount given to Mr. Netanyahu’s election campaign.”

But careful scrutiny of Netanyahu’s activity in the early 2000s reveals a different picture than that painted by the prime minister’s aides, who claim that Netanyahu had abandoned all political activity and used the foundation’s money only for public diplomacy. According to data obtained by Haaretz, the foundation financed political polls for Netanyahu, and not merely efforts to explain Israel's policies overseas.