Probe Netanyahu's French Connection

There is a supreme public interest in going through with an investigation in the Netanyahu-Mimran affair. The truth must be sought in cases that cast criminal suspicion on elected officials.

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

In interviews to Israeli media outlets over the past few days, French businessman Arnaud Mimran has offered new and contradictory accounts of giving money to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The donations were uncovered by Haaretz Paris correspondent Dov Alfon and the French website Mediapart. Still unclear is the amount of money involved, as well as the date and the bank account or accounts to which it was transferred.

Gidi Weitz and Barak Ravid wrote in Haaretz on Tuesday that a foundation for Netanyahu’s “public activity,” that according to the prime minister was the recipient of Mimran’s donation, actually paid for political activities during Netanyahu’s hiatus from politics between 1999 and 2003. Among other uses, the money funded polls whose purpose was to help plan his return to the Knesset and the cabinet.

The multiplicity of versions points to the need for a full criminal investigation. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has refrained from ordering such a probe and has hesitated even to request a “preliminary examination,” fearing the political ramifications of such a move. But the first duty of law enforcement is to collect evidence and not to worry about the image of any politician, no matter how senior.

Another reason that a full criminal investigation must be launched is that it, unlike a preliminary or informal investigation, allows for making judicial inquiries abroad and summoning Netanyahu for questioning as a possible suspect, which means he would have to answer detectives’ questions directly, not through his lawyers.

A criminal investigation into the receipt by Israel’s prime minister of money from a tycoon who is standing trial for perpetrating a vast fraud is necessary even if the statute of limitations may have expired on any offense of which Netanyahu may be suspected. The time to deal with the statute of limitations is at the end of an investigation, after all the facts have been sorted out and an indictment is being considered, not before any evidence has been collected. When an investigation begins there is no way to determine what additional offenses will be uncovered before it ends, and whether they will be subject to the statute of limitations.

But such an investigation is not superfluous in any case. There is a supreme public interest in going through with it because the truth must be sought in cases that cast criminal suspicion on elected officials.

This public interest has been accommodated in the past, for example when then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ordered the Cyril Kern investigation — involving the alleged transfer of millions of dollars by the South African businessman to Ariel Sharon — to continue even after Sharon had a stroke that left him in a coma. So it has been in other cases of suspicions against politicians.

The investigation of the Netanyahu-Mimran case must end with either a comprehensive public report or an indictment.