It would be interesting to know how Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan responded to the news of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s secret trip to Vienna, where he met with Austrian businessman Martin Schlaff, as revealed by Barak Ravid in Haaretz yesterday.
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Schlaff has long been wanted for questioning by the Israeli Police on suspicion of corruption in a case involving a Cypriot company that Lieberman allegedly controlled. Weinstein, and Nitzan, to some degree, are responsible for the biggest failure of the Israeli justice system over the last decade, one that deeply involves both Lieberman and Schlaff.
The two met when Lieberman was serving as director general of the Prime Minster’s Office under Benjamin Netanyahu. By then, the Austrian businessman was already connected to the upper echelons of Israelis politics. Schlaff was a friend of former PMO director general Shimon Sheves as well as Haim Ramon, Aryeh Deri, and a few other well-known political figures.
In late 1997, Lieberman left politics to pursue business. The Israel Police later conducted an investigation into allegations that he received roughly $3 million from an Austrian bank in exchange for political support he supposedly provided to the bank with the Russian government. The police thought then that Schlaff was also involved in the deal. The case was closed for lack of evidence.
In 1999, Lieberman ran for the Knesset as chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party. After the election and his stunning victory of four seats, another investigation was launched against him, amidst suspicions that he had received a million dollars for his party from an another Austrian businessman associated with Schlaff. Schlaff, who owned a casino in Jericho then, was also investigated, though that probe was closed as well for lack of evidence.
In 2003, Schlaff stopped coming to Israel, in the wake of suspicions that he had sent millions of dollars to Ariel Sharon’s family in return for support for building a floating casino near Eilat. Although he left the country, Schlaff stayed in touch with Lieberman and the two met periodically in Vienna. In 2006, another investigation was opened against Lieberman, who was suspected of using straw men to manage businesses that received millions of dollars from various parties, including Schlaff.
The same investigation found that in late 2001, an Australian company owned by Schlaff transferred $650,000 to a Cypriot company that was supposedly controlled by Lieberman, who was serving then as a government minister. After three years that investigation, which was full of both direct and circumstantial evidence, was closed by the attorney general in 2011. The decision was backed by his special ops man, Shai Nitzan, who wrote the decision.
It was a document full of illogical and meaningless explanations that had two purposes: saving Lieberman from indictment and conviction, and saving Weinstein from the clutches of the Supreme Court. If those involved dared to speak about what they saw and heard about the handling of the Lieberman case, the public would be exposed to what is probably one of the worst failures of the legal system.
Weinstein saved Lieberman from a long, arduous legal process. Nitzan recently gave Schlaff a green light to come to Israel without fear of investigation or arrest. Yesterday, opposition leaders approached Weinstein and Nitzan, asking them to look into the circumstances of Lieberman’s secret visit to Vienna for a meeting with Schlaff. They might as well be talking to a wall.