Prosecutors May Drop Bribery Charges Against Lieberman

As fraud squad investigation draws to a close, complexities of case becoming apparent.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and top state prosecution officials began a three-day marathon yesterday in a hotel near Jerusalem, as they attempt to clear the final obstacles before a decision on whether to indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The officials include State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, his deputies Shuki Lamberger and Shai Nitzan, and the head of the financial department of the prosecutor's office, Avia Alef. Also attending is Yossi Kurtzberg, a senior attorney from the Tel Aviv district attorney's office, who was appointed by Weinstein to present an independent critical review of the case constructed by the prosecution. Kurtzberg's opinion is expected to reveal weak points in the case and the charges, and effectively simulates the anticipated counter-arguments of Lieberman's defense team.

lieberman - Olivier Fitoussi - January 26 2011
Olivier Fitoussi

Among other issues, the team is examining the difficulties of obtaining a conviction based on the evidence gathered in all the charges, especially that of accepting bribes.

Sources close to the investigation told Haaretz that some of the senior prosecutors involved are leaning toward not charging Lieberman with bribery, prefering to focus on the charges of fraud, breach of trust and money laundering. The sources said the prosecution was facing a number of difficulties, both in the conceptual legal field and in the evidentiary one.

The prosecution would find it difficult to prove that Lieberman himself can be charged with bribery and obtaining items through fraud based on evidence relating to funds received in businesses operated by his close associates, entrusted with running them while he served as a minister and member of Knesset.

On top of that, the sources said, there are a number of difficulties in the evidence collected in the case, especially regarding bribery. Among these is the fact that there is no guarantee that witnesses questioned by police abroad will travel to Israel to testify and be cross-examined.

Once the marathon discussions at the hotel conclude, Weinstein is expected to continue fleshing out the difficulties in the case, and will announce his decision by late February. If he decides to indict Lieberman, the foreign minister will be invited for a hearing. That hearing is not likely to take place for a few more months, as the material of the case fills dozens of crates of documents. A final decision will not be reached until the summer.

In August 2009, the police national fraud squad recommended indicting Lieberman on the charges of bribery, obtaining items through fraud in aggravated circumstances, obstruction of justice, fraud, breach of trust, harassing a witness and money laundering. Police also recommended to press charges against Lieberman's attorney, Yoav Many.

Police believe Lieberman and his associates pocketed over NIS 10 million, transferred via foreign companies. Among the alleged sources of the funds are tycoons Martin Schlaff and Michael Chernoy.

As part of the investigation, Lieberman's daughter, Michal Lieberman, was also interrogated, after Haaretz reporters Gidi Weitz and Uri Blau found her consulting company received NIS 11 million from unknown sources abroad for "business consulting." Lieberman is also suspected of breach of trust in the case of then-ambassador to Belarus, Ze'ev Ben Aryeh, who is believed to have sent the minister classified information regarding the investigation against him. Police also want to indict the former ambassador on charges of obstruction of justice and breach of trust.

The foreign minister claims that the police recommendations are unfounded, and that he is the victim of unjust persecution designed to check his rising political power.