Neeman's Choice for AG Will Have to Recuse Self From Big-name Graft Cases

Following a week of speculation, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman yesterday announced his recommendation that the cabinet appoint Yehuda Weinstein as the next attorney general.

Weinstein, 65, is a prominent and well-regarded defense attorney specializing in white-collar crimes, who has represented some very well-known public officials and businesspeople.

After the committee appointed to select the new attorney general announced a week ago that it had failed to reach a consensus, the cabinet on Sunday asked Neeman to recommend one of the four candidates that had garnered the most votes on the committee. In addition to Weinstein, the short list included Zvi Agmon, Prof. Daphne Barak-Erez and Yedidia Stern.

Haaretz reported Tuesday that Neeman had not told the cabinet about his close ties with Stern. That morning, Neeman's bureau said Stern had withdrawn his candidacy because he could not fulfill the position, which also required expertise in criminal law.

Neeman announced his recommendation of Weinstein quickly, so the cabinet could confirm the appointment at Sunday's regular session. From Neeman's perspective, even if Weinstein is not the candidate he would have chosen if he had free rein, he is the most suitable on the short list.

In a statement yesterday, Neeman's bureau said Weinstein was "the best candidate for the post at this time, when there is a real need to strengthen the rule of law and the law enforcement system, and to fight crime."

Weinstein's positions on government corruption are clear. He has said on various occasions that corruption must be fought "with sword, spear and lance." However, he has also said that corruption cases should focus on very central figures rather than marginal cases.

Weinstein has represented prominent figures in Israel's political and economic life over the years. In conducting some of his clients' legal affairs, he has collaborated with the defense attorneys of other prominent clients and held talks with the State Prosecutor's Office.

Weinstein will shortly be asked to provide a detailed list of the cases with which he will no longer be involved either directly or indirectly.

Suspicions against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will be the first and most significant case Weinstein will be dealing with if he is confirmed as attorney general. Lieberman is suspected of having received millions of dollars in bribes from businessmen, among them Martin Schlaff and Michael Chernoy, allegedly to promote their business dealings in Israel.

Lieberman is also suspected of establishing a series of front companies and opening bank accounts abroad under false pretenses that supposedly enabled him to pocket more than NIS 10 million.

The State Prosecutor's Office has been racing against time over the past few weeks so that current Attorney General Menachem Mazuz would at least be able to announce either that he is considering trying Lieberman, pending a hearing, or that he will close the case against the foreign minister. If he is confirmed, Weinstein will be at the head of the table during a hearing that would reveal complex information about the relationship between Lieberman and Chernoy.

Without reference to Lieberman, Chernoy is waging a bitter legal battle in Britain and Israel with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, Chernoy's former partner in one of Russia's biggest aluminum concerns. Chernoy is suing Deripaska in Britain over stock worth billions, and has recently brought suit in Tel Aviv District Court against a group of people, including Deripaska, for libel.

Deripaska is represented by Weinstein, together with attorney Eyal Rosovsky, who, as a member of the attorney general search committee, was one of the three members who supported Weinstein's candidacy for the post.

Will Weinstein, who as Deripaska's counsel may have been exposed to extensive information about Chernoy and his various relationships, be able to sit at the head of the table in a Lieberman hearing?

Rosovsky said yesterday: "It is not a suit that Lieberman is involved in personally, and there is no connection between the suit against Deripaska and Lieberman, but I am sure Weinstein will give it great thought."

Weinstein will not be able to deal with the Tax Authority bribe scandal because he represented one of the suspects, Eitan Rub, a former director of the authority. Weinstein was able to have the case closed. The State Prosecutor's Office considers the Tax Authority case, involving a number of high-placed officials and business people, to be one of the most serious cases of public corruption in the country's history.

Weinstein will also not be able to deal with the various offshoots of the charges facing former prime minister Ehud Olmert, among them the case of his bureau chief Shula Zaken, because Weinstein had been a member of Olmert's defense team. Weinstein had harsh criticism at the time of the way the State Prosecutor's office handled the Olmert case.

Another case that Weinstein was involved with are the bribery suspicions against attorney Yaakov Weinrot, whom Weinstein has known for years and collaborated with on many cases. The State Prosecutor's Office has announced its intention to decide shortly whether to indict Weinrot on suspicions of attempting to bribe a tax official, Shuki Vita.

Another client of Weinstein's is former judge Dan Cohen, who is expected to be indicted for allegedly having pocketed some $2.8 million and over a million euros in bribes while a member of the Israel Electric Corporation's board of directors.

Weinstein also represented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he was accused of attempting to get the state to cover expenses incurred in his employment of a contractor, Avner Amedi.