Two heavyweights will face off on Sunday in the arena of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court. One is the reigning Israeli champion of extrication from possible criminal indictment, former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The other is a former youth boxing champ and the man whose specialty is criminal law, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.
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The Lieberman case has been a focus of Weinstein’s term in office and on Sunday his test begins. Lieberman is charged with receiving information about the investigation against him from Ze’ev Ben Aryeh; a few months later, he allegedly intervened several times during his term as foreign minister to further the ambassador’s appointment for another term. If the appointment had come before the information was allegedly conveyed, the charge could have been bribery.
Breach of trust is serious enough; it may be presumed that in the event of a conviction, Weinstein would rule that the offenses carry moral turpitude, which would keep Lieberman out of politics for years to come.
The hearing that begins Sunday is expected to be short and simple; the prosecution has called the indictment “compact.” Weinstein was sure the case of the straw companies would end in acquittal; he would not have begun the breach of trust case unless he thought a conviction was fairly certain.
Lieberman is sure he will be acquitted. If he is, it will be a sucker punch to the prosecution, still reeling from the partial acquittal of Ehud Olmert. Weinstein cannot afford to leave such a legacy.
Over the weekend, critics were up in arms over speculation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will keep the Foreign Ministry portfolio for himself for now, thus reserving it for Lieberman, as Lieberman has said. There is no legal impediment to keep the prime minister from holding on to senior cabinet appointments. Netanyahu’s move is perceived as a vote of no confidence in the prosecution, but he may be bound by a coalition promise to Lieberman. If so, the law requires this to be made public when the government is formed. Then the legality of reserving the portfolio can be challenged in the High Court of Justice. If Netanyahu explains that he is holding on to it for reasons unconnected to Lieberman, it will be hard to prevent him from doing so.
However, despite concerns by some, it is not at all clear that Foreign Ministry officials will temper testimony against Lieberman because they are afraid he may return to the foreign minister’s office. First of all, even if the witnesses get cold feet and change their testimony, Weinstein will show the court the records of their testimony as they originally presented it to the police.
Secondly, testimony against the boss can be an insurance policy. If Lieberman is acquitted and gets his job back, the public and the justice system will take a dim view of anyone who testified against him being moved to another position.
Third, if the witnesses believe in the prosecution, they had better stick to their original testimony, because only joint efforts will increase the likelihood of a conviction and keep the suspect away from the Foreign Ministry.