(photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/POOL)
Maitre Schnerb, the lawyer for Arnaud Mimran, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s version of events regarding a controversial money transfer was correct and that his French billionaire client may have made a mistake in the story he told Channel 10 earlier this week.
The Post’s call to Schnerb and its checking with Channel 10 to sort out the glaring contradiction appeared to set off a shift in coverage, with Channel 10 itself later calling Schnerb and reporting on its 8 p.m. news program what the lawyer had told the Post earlier in the day.
Mimran himself on Tuesday did not appear to contradict his lawyer or defend his Monday night comments, only repeating that he held documents regarding the transfer and that he did not want the prime minister angry with him.
If Schnerb and Netanyahu’s versions are correct, then Mimran transferred just $40,000 to Netanyahu in 2001 and made the transfer to a public purposes account for supporting Israeli causes – not to a personal account.
This contrasts with Mimran’s allegation Monday that he sent €170,000 to Netanyahu's personal account.
Most significantly, Schnerb told the Post that it was his understanding that all of Mimran and Netanyahu’s transactions in 2001 were legal, though he had a slight qualification because he did not know what expenses Mimran might have covered for Netanyahu while on vacation.
“We are talking about 15 years ago. There were other donations for promoting Israel.
Perhaps Mr. Mimran did not remember exactly how much money was donated each time and just remembered some sort of a general sum. There were missions of lobbying for Israel, perhaps vacation expenses. I am not dealing with his [Mimran’s] affairs in this area,” he said.
Schnerb added: “I can only assume that he might not have been precise because of all the time that has gone by.
If the office of Mr. Netanyahu said 40,000, then it must be correct. In any case, it was all done legally and according to the law. Mr. Mimran surely associated several sums donated for the promotion of Israel.’’ Netanyahu finally responded to the allegations at a press conference in Moscow on Tuesday. “Nothing will come of it. You know why? Because there is nothing.”
He also slammed the press for getting the details of the allegations wrong and for relentlessly pursuing his wife, Sara.
The scandal erupted following Mimran’s recent testimony in a fraud case against him in France for failing to report fund transfers when he reportedly told the French court that he had transferred around €1 million to Netanyahu 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.
Nevertheless, an initial review of the issue is under way pursuant to an order from Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, following the reports of possibly millions of shekels in non-reported funds being transferred from Mimran to Netanyahu related to election campaigns or as personal gifts, though all the allegations now may be in question following Tuesday’s revelations by the Post.
The criminal investigation comes at a dark time legally for Netanyahu as 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 that the prime minister is in any real danger of indictment since, even if his explanation of the transfers is disproven, 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.
If Mimran’s original allegations of €170,000 still pan out, it could 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 had been required to report the transfer and failed to do so, any culpability for a tax crime would have long expired since the incident dates back to 2001, when Netanyahu was not in politics.
Furthermore, even if the contributions were for political purposes, the relevant limits for receiving contributions from a single individual is NIS 45,880, considerably less than either amount being debated.