Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decided a year ago, in opposition to the recommendation of State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, to close the case against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in the “straw companies” investigation. Weinstein explained that his decision was prompted by fears that the court would acquit Lieberman on the basis of reasonable doubt.
At the same time, the attorney general pulled out of the files the case of the Israeli ambassador to Minsk, Ze’ev Ben Aryeh, who revealed to Lieberman secret information about the investigation against him being conducted in Belarus, a short time after which Ben Aryeh was appointed ambassador to Latvia. Weinstein assumed the chances of a conviction in the Ben Aryeh case were far higher than in the more serious case, and Lieberman was indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust.
Weinstein’s critics viewed his decision to close the major case and file the minor one as a clever ploy: Lieberman was freed from the weighty danger to his political future, and possibly even to his freedom, while at the same time his membership in the cabinet was suspended until the charges against him could be resolved.
Last month the waiting period ended. Three judges from the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court acquitted Lieberman. Even though the decision was unanimous, the judges’ explanations desperately need to be attacked legally and factually, both with regard to this specific case and to the interpretation of the phrase “the crime of breach of trust.” If the court’s decision remains the last word on the subject of Lieberman, the restraints on corruption in Israel's public service will be removed. Every minister and official will be free to hide behind the Lieberman verdict and act according to improper norms - and claim their acts were legitimate from a legal standpoint.
Next week Weinstein is supposed to decide whether to accept Lador’s recommendation and appeal Lieberman’s acquittal. Lador - who is retiring after six years in which he did not flinch from clashing with those in power - is right. Obviously the results of the appeal are not guaranteed in advance, but the possibility of losing must not deter Weinstein and become a factor in his decision whether to appeal or not.
“The public will read and judge,” Weinstein said when he closed the straw companies case against Lieberman. If the public reads that the attorney general surrendered without a battle, not only its trust in its elected officials will be undermined, but also its faith in the entire legal system.
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