“I’ll get the same result – a conviction and a finding of moral turpitude – quicker and more efficiently this way, without getting bogged down in a case full of holes that is liable to collapse in what would turn out to be a Yom Kippur for the prosecution.” That, effectively, is what Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has been saying in private conversations for the past year, after he decided to close the main case against former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and make do with an anorexic indictment focused on an improper ambassadorial appointment.
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Weinstein will soon conclude his fourth year in office, and Lieberman is the first senior politician he has indicted. This meager harvest has shaped his public image as the best attorney general the well-connected could ever dream of – an image Weinstein indignantly rejects, and which he hopes a conviction in the Lieberman case will dispel.
The attorney general has served as a kind of chief prosecutor in this case: He met regularly with the courtroom prosecutors, planned their cross-examination of Lieberman and read transcripts of the hearings. He also instructed his staff to spoon-feed legal reporters and analysts with the main points of the prosecution’s narrative – a tactic normally used only by high-priced defense attorneys.
The attorney general’s activism in this case has an ironic aspect: Last December, after years of playing for time, Weinstein decided to bury a case that involved truly weighty suspicions against Lieberman: allegations that he secretly controlled straw companies to which interested parties funneled millions of dollars. At the same time, Weinstein agonized over what to do about the appendix to that case – the ambassadorial appointment.
His defense attorney’s soul told him there was something ungentlemanly about filing such a truncated indictment against Lieberman, after two decades of investigations that had led nowhere. He was particularly afraid of the response of his reference group, the club to which he used to belong: “What will the white-collar defense attorneys say if I file this indictment after closing the main case?”
It’s hard to say what ultimately motivated Weinstein to put Lieberman in the dock. Today, he claims he always viewed the former foreign minister’s actions as corrupt and unacceptable, and that he couldn’t overlook any public figure involving himself in such a blatant conflict of interests – the promotion of an ambassador who betrayed the public’s trust in a previous posting by giving Lieberman confidential information about a police investigation against him.
Weinstein’s opponents, including some from the prosecution’s own ranks, are skeptical. They claim that what chiefly impelled him to file the indictment was his desperate desire both to deflect the arrows of public criticism and to remove the sting from the inevitable petitions to the High Court of Justice against his decision to close the main case.
But either way, the furrows of doubt are gone from Weinstein’s face. He tell his associates that a conviction in this case is critical to the war on public corruption, and that he’ll take it all the way – even to the Supreme Court – if Lieberman is acquitted, or if the trial court convicts him without ruling that his actions involved moral turpitude, a finding that would bar him from politics for years.
Yet despite his belief in the importance of a conviction, none of Weinstein’s associates were willing to bet on the trial’s outcome last night. The partial acquittals of two other senior politicians, Tzachi Hanegbi and Ehud Olmert, stunned the prosecution and taught it – and us – that in Israel of 2013, the legal fate of senior politicians is fluid, deceptive and sometimes subject to hidden considerations that don’t necessarily have anything to do with cool-headed legal analysis of the evidence.