French bil­lion­aire con­tra­dicts PM – says he gave Ne­tanyahu €170,000

A-G check­ing if laws bro­ken • PMO de­nies wrong­do­ing • MK calls for prime min­is­ter to sus­pend him­self

Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By YONAH JEREMY BOB and GIL HOFF­MAN

French bil­lion­aire Arno Mim­ran, in a Mon­day night in­ter­view on Chan­nel 10, con­tra­dicted Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s ver­sion of events re­lated to a now hotly scru­ti­nized fund trans­fer he re­ceived from him 2001.

The Jus­tice Min­istry con­firmed on Sun­day night that Attorney-Gen­eral Avichai Man­del­blit had or­dered a re­view of pos­si­bly mil­lions of shekels in non-re­ported funds trans­ferred from Mim­ran to Ne­tanyahu as ei­ther cam­paign do­na­tions or as per­sonal gifts.

The crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion comes at a dark time legally for Ne­tanyahu, when he and his wife face a wave of scan­dals from the “Bibi Tours Af­fair” to the “Prime Min­is­ter’s Res­i­dence Af­fair.”

At the same time, it is un­clear whether the prime min­is­ter is in any real dan­ger of in­dict­ment as, even if his ex­pla­na­tion of the funds is dis­proved, the funds may have been for per­mit­ted uses while he was a pri­vate cit­i­zen and any fail­ure to re­port funds re­ceived as per­sonal gifts likely can­not lead to a crim­i­nal case due to the statute of lim­i­ta­tions having passed.

Ear­lier Mon­day, Ne­tanyahu’s spokesman said that he had re­ceived only $40,000 from Mim­ran, which it­self was a re­vised po­si­tion from some time ago, when the prime min­is­ter had de­nied re­ceiv­ing any funds.

A state­ment from Ne­tanyahu had also said that the funds were sent to a pub­lic pur­pose ac­count and were used to support his pub­lic ef­forts on be­half of Is­raeli causes.

Also, the state­ment said that “Mr. Ne­tanyahu did not re­ceive any il­le­gal con­tri­bu­tion from Mr. Mim­ran. Any other claim is false” and

ac­cused Mim­ran of try­ing to dis­tract at­ten­tion from his own crim­i­nal ac­tions in France.

In con­trast, Mim­ran told Chan­nel 10 that he had given the prime min­is­ter €170,000, a con­sid­er­ably larger num­ber. He added that the ac­counts were trans­ferred to Ne­tanyahu’s per­sonal ac­count for per­sonal use.

This could po­ten­tially raise ques­tions about whether Ne­tanyahu had a duty to re­port the trans­fers to the tax au­thor­i­ties and could lead to a check as to whether he re­ported them.

How­ever, even if he needed to re­port the trans­fer and failed to, any tax crime would have long ex­pired since the in­ci­dent dates back to 2001.

Even if the con­tri­bu­tions were for a po­lit­i­cal pur­pose such as run­ning for party lead­er­ship, the limit for re­ceiv­ing con­tri­bu­tions from a sin­gle in­di­vid­ual is NIS 45,880, con­sid­er­ably less than the amounts cited on Mon­day. How­ever, Ne­tanyahu was not even in pol­i­tics in 2001, com­pli­cat­ing the claims fur­ther.

Ne­tanyahu’s attorney David Shim­ron vig­or­ously de­nied the re­ports and the claims by the French busi­ness­man.

“As the ad­min­is­tra­tor of Mr. Ne­tanyahu’s fund for pub­lic diplo­macy when he was a pri­vate cit­i­zen, I can say clearly that the amount that was trans­ferred by Mr. Mim­ran was $40,000,” Shim­ron said. “The amount was trans­ferred to the fund on Au­gust 24, 2001. No amount was trans­ferred to Ne­tanyahu’s pri­vate bank ac­count or to his elec­tion cam­paign.”

Shim­ron state­ment is sig­nif­i­cant, be­cause if the money went to Ne­tanyahu’s pri­vate bank ac­count, it would have had to be taxed, and if it went to his cam­paign fund, it would be sub­ject to cam­paign fund-rais­ing lim­i­ta­tions.

“Like oth­ers, this at­tempt to harm the prime min­is­ter with false ac­cu­sa­tions is be­ing in­flated by the me­dia and will de­flate like a bal­loon,” he said.

The lat­est scan­dal erupted fol­low­ing Mim­ran’s re­cent tes­ti­fy­ing in a fraud case against him in France for fail­ing to re­port the fund trans­fers.

Re­port­edly, dur­ing Mim­ran’s tes­ti­mony he told the French court that he had trans­ferred around NIS 1 mil­lion euros to the prime min­is­ter for his po­lit­i­cal cam­paign. It was un­clear which po­lit­i­cal cam­paign this re­ferred to and how these claims com­pared to Mon­day night’s claims of a spe­cific smaller amount be­ing given to Ne­tanyahu for per­sonal use.

Man­del­blit’s or­der means there is an ini­tial re­view in mo­tion to de­ter­mine if there should be a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether any Is­raeli laws were vi­o­lated.

Sun­day night’s con­firm­ing Jus­tice Min­istry state­ment about the re­view was vague and gave no in­di­ca­tion of whether the re­view could pose any kind of se­ri­ous le­gal threat to the prime min­is­ter.

The Move­ment for Qual­ity Gov­ern­ment asked the head of the tax author­ity, Moshe Asher, to probe whether the money that Ne­tanyahu re­ceived was re­ported and whether he paid taxes on it. Zion­ist Union MK Erel Mar­galit said the prime min­is­ter needed to sus­pend him­self im­me­di­ately pend­ing a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the money he re­ceived from the French­men.

“Ne­tanyahu is get­ting in more and more trou­ble, ly­ing, hid­ing things, and con­tra­dict­ing him­self,” Mar­galit said.

“The eth­i­cal pollution is grave, and what is even worse is the si­lence of the lambs on the right and the left among those who have re­ceived po­lit­i­cal posts from Ne­tanyahu or hope to in the future. Enough cor­rup­tion and enough of the si­lence that is no less dan­ger­ous.”

Mar­galit’s col­league in the Zion­ist Union, Kse­nia Svet­lova, said Ne­tanyahu’s de­fense that he was a pri­vate cit­i­zen is ridicu­lous be­cause it was clear to all that he would re­turn to pol­i­tics.

“Law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties must check what Ne­tanyahu was sell­ing,” Svet­lova said.

“Po­lit­i­cal clean­li­ness is not a mere rec­om­men­da­tion for po­lit­i­cal of­fi­cials. It is a nec­es­sary perquisite for any­one that chooses to serve the pub­lic. The pub­lic must know that those who make fate­ful de­ci­sions for them are not tainted by cor­rup­tion.” •

(Marc Is­rael Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

AVICHAI MAN­DEL­BLIT

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