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.”