Key Witnesses Begin to Testify as Avigdor Lieberman Graft Trial Resumes

Among witnesses scheduled to appear in Jerusalem court is former ambassador to Belarus Ze'ev Ben Aryeh, whom Lieberman is charged with improperly working to appoint ambassador to Latvia.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

The trial of former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for fraud and breach of trust is resumed Thursday at the Jerusalem Magistrates Court.

The judges, Hagit Kalmanovich, Yitzhak Shimoni and Eitan Kornhauser, are scheduled to hear testimony from former ambassador to Belarus Ze'ev Ben Aryeh and former Foreign Ministry comptroller Victor Harel.

The charges against Lieberman relate to his efforts to appoint Ben Aryeh as ambassador to Latvia, after, as ambassador to Belarus, Ben Aryeh provided Lieberman with information about an investigation of his affairs being conducted in Belarus.

While the decision on whether or not to indict Lieberman, and on which charges, was repeatedly postponed, the verdict in the trial is expected within several months. The prosecutors from the economic department of the Prosecutor's Office, Michal Sibal-Dalal and Eran Zeller, announced they will need only three or four sessions in April and May to present their case.

In the next session, two members of the Foreign Ministry appointments committee, Yossi Gal, the ambassador to France, and Shimon Roded, the ambassador to Thailand, will appear as witnesses. The main prosecution witness, former Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon – who was booted off the ticket of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, which Lieberman still heads, before the recent elections – is due to testify May 2.

The defense will present its case at the end of May, with Lieberman and others expected to be called to the witness stand. This phase is expected to be completed by the end of June at the latest, before the prosecution and defense present their concluding arguments. The court is then legally required to issue its ruling within 30 days. If Lieberman is convicted of a charge that carries moral turpitude and sentenced to a period of more than three months, he will be banned from running for Knesset for seven years from the end of his prison sentence.

In the amended indictment, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein accuses Lieberman of active involvement in promoting Ben Aryeh's appointment as ambassador. Lieberman allegedly told Ayalon to appoint Ben Aryeh ahead of a ministerial appointments committee meeting. Although he did not know Ben Aryeh at the time, Ayalon promoted his selection from among 10 candidates. According to the charge sheet, the appointment was "a reward for someone" who had helped Lieberman.

Ben Aryeh was convicted last October of obstruction of justice and passing information to an unauthorized person after confessing as part of a plea bargain. He received a four-month jail sentence, which was commuted to community service.

Lieberman's attorneys deny the charges, saying the former foreign minister did not promote Ben Aryeh's appointment, as stated in the indictment. "Mr. Ben Aryeh was unanimously chosen by the foreign minister's appointments committee to the post of Israeli ambassador in Riga," they wrote. "The defendant did not relay any information to the committee regarding Mr. Ben Aryeh and did not commit any criminal offense."

Haaretz revealed Tuesday that the National Fraud Unit had carried out a covert investigation against two of Lieberman's associates related to alleged unsanctioned trips abroad.

Lieberman's attorneys demanded Tuesday that the attorney general order an investigation of the publication of transcripts of Lieberman's interrogations and of the covert investigation.

"There can be no doubt that the source of the leaking is one of the law enforcement agencies, since we received the materials in the late evening hours, shortly before the publication in Haaretz," they wrote. "The timing of the publications, before the resumption of the trial, and the tendentiousness of the publication leaves no doubt that this is an inappropriate effort to improperly influence the legal process."

Avigdor Lieberman At the entrance to the court, April 251, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman
Ze’ev Ben AryehCredit: Olivier Fitoussi
Danny AyalonCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

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