Justice Ministry Delays Indictment Against Lieberman Over New Evidence

Justice Ministry refuses to comment on whether delay has to do with a Ch. 10 report that police did not gather evidence from members of the Finance Ministry's nominating committee that appointed Ze'ev Ben Aryeh as Israel's ambassador to Belarus.

Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman
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Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman

The anticipated indictment of former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was unexpectedly postponed yesterday because the prosecution is considering reopening the investigation to take testimony from additional witnesses. The Justice Ministry had previously said the indictment would be submitted Tuesday.

The ministry refused to explain the reason for the indictment's delay, and declined to comment on whether it had anything to do with a Channel 10 television report about the case that aired on Monday. All the ministry would say was that the indictment would be submitted in the coming days.

Nevertheless, Haaretz has learned that the prosecution is in fact looking into the claims made in Channel 10's report.

On Monday, the station reported that the police never questioned members of the nominating committee that appointed Ze'ev Ben Aryeh as Israel's ambassador to Latvia, and that some of the committee members claim they were pressured by Lieberman to approve the appointment. If so, this could materially affect the case, which revolves around Ben Aryeh's appointment.

Last Thursday, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced that the main charges against Lieberman - of money laundering and fraud - would be dropped. Thus, what remains of the case is one count of fraud and breach of trust for having allegedly tried to promote Ben Aryeh after the latter, in his previous post as ambassador to Belarus, gave Lieberman confidential information about the police investigation against him. Ben Aryeh obtained this information when the police sought assistance in their inquiries from the Belarus government.

Lieberman denies having pushed for the appointment, and says he does not remember whether or not he discussed it with the committee's chairman, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, a member of Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party. But in response to that claim, one of the committee members told Channel 10, "I am not senile. I remember exactly what happened."

The Channel 10 report puts the prosecution in a bind. On one hand, with Lieberman having just resigned as foreign minister in the expectation that the indictment was imminent, postponing it for any substantial amount of time is liable to spark public criticism and claims of political persecution. But failing to pursue a lead that could affect the case would likely result in a petition to the High Court of Justice challenging such a decision.

Questioning the relevant people isn't necessarily a simple matter. Aside from Ayalon, the committee had seven members, some of whom are currently serving in embassies overseas. Thus, either they would have to be summoned back to Israel, or their testimony would have to be taken in writing. Either option could cause delays.

But aside from the practical issues, the fact that nether the police nor the prosecution noticed the omission until now has left them with egg on their faces regardless of what happens next.

Lieberman's attorneys have said their client wants the case wrapped up speedily so he can run for Knesset in the January 22 election with the matter behind him. He and the prosecution had been expected to try to reach agreement on as many facts of the case as possible to speed up the legal proceedings, and it had been thought the talks might ultimately yield a plea bargain.

But the Channel 10 testimony could complicate this effort by bolstering the prosecution's claim that the crime involved moral turpitude - something to which Lieberman would never agree. If Lieberman were convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude after being elected to the next Knesset, he would have to resign immediately.

Avigdor Lieberman. Still has his eyes on a ministerial portfolio.Credit: Reuters

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