Lieberman Fraud Trial to Open in Three Weeks

Trial against former foreign minister will be held before panel of three judges; dismissed MK Ayalon is expected to testify against Lieberman if a plea arrangement is not reached before trial.

The trial on charges of fraud and breach of trust against Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu and former foreign minister, will be conducted before a panel of three judges, the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court ruled Sunday. The indictment will be read in court on February 17.

The request for the expanded three-judge panel was made by the prosecution in the case against Lieberman, who resigned as foreign minister last month after the decision to indict him was announced. The prosecution argued that the case should not be tried by one judge due to the public and legal importance of the case.

At the beginning of December, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced that he would close the file on an investigation that had been pending for years over suspicions of illegal business dealings by Lieberman involving the use of straw corporations. But he announced the indictment of the Yisrael Beiteinu leader on charges related to alleged improprieties involving the former Israeli ambassador to Belarus, Ze'ev Ben Aryeh.

The indictment alleges that Lieberman sought to have Ben Aryeh appointed ambassador to Latvia without disclosing that the ambassador had improperly disclosed confidential information to Lieberman about contacts that Israeli investigators had made with Belarussian authorities in connection with Lieberman's case. The allegations suggest that Lieberman sought Ben Aryeh's promotion following the disclosure as a result of the information that he shared with Lieberman.

For his part, however, Lieberman has said when he received documents from Ben Aryeh about the investigation, he disregarded them and flushed them down a toilet.

According to the indictment, before the appointment committee met to consider Ben Aryeh's candidacy as ambassador to Latvia, Lieberman summoned Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and asked that he work to have Ben Aryeh appointed from among the 10 candidates under consideration. Lieberman allegedly did not disclose his prior contacts with Ben Aryeh and later removed Ayalon as deputy foreign minister.

Ayalon is expected to testify against Lieberman if a plea arrangement is not reached before trial.