Witnesses Back Lieberman's Version in Graft Trial

Trial resumes with testimony from Foreign Ministry appointments committee members; meanwhile, Israel's deputy attorney general requests one-month extension in bid to revive wider corruption charges.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's fraud and breach-of-trust trial continued yesterday with two members of the ministry's appointments committee taking the stand at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court. Lieberman stands accused of appointing Israel's former ambassador to Belarus, Ze'ev Ben Aryeh, ambassador to Latvia after Ben Aryeh gave Lieberman information about an investigation regarding Lieberman's affairs in Belarus.

Lieberman should have been quite pleased with the second day of the evidentiary phase of his trial, as former ministry director general Yossi Gal testified, as well as the former head of the ministry's human resources department, Shimon Roded. Both diplomats confirmed Lieberman's version of events, in which he claims he was not involved in Ben Aryeh's appointment and that Ben Aryeh was chosen on the basis of his professional credentials. Gal is now Israel's ambassador to France, while Roded is now Israel's ambassador to Thailand.

Gal vehemently denied he received messages from Lieberman to appoint Ben Aryeh. But when asked if he received such messages about appointments in general from Lieberman, he became much less firm and avoided the question: "In my position as director general I worked very closely, as is required, with the foreign minister. Naturally, in discussions we occasionally exchanged opinions about these workers or others. But I never received instructions or dictates from the foreign minister on specific candidates," said Gal.

Gal was less cautious in his formulation under police questioning in December. He said then that he did not remember if Lieberman had made any such specific requests as to appointments, but "there were discussions which could be understood from them a level of interest, but in a specific manner about this incident I don't remember."

Last week, former Foreign Ministry comptroller Victor Harel said members of the appointments committee were familiar with criticism of Ben Aryeh's abilities. Harel said committee members Roded and Pinhas Avivi, the deputy head of the ministry's department for Europe and Asia, felt as he did. But according to the defense, Roded and Avivi denied making such statements.

The prosecution's main witness, former Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, will most likely testify tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Deputy Attorney General Shai Nitzan has asked the High Court of Justice for a one-month deferment in responding to a petition by the Ometz movement and MK Miki Rosenthal (Labor) against closing a wider corruption case against Lieberman. Ometz and Rosenthal have also asked the court to order the State Prosecutor's Office to reveal the full opinion of State Prosecutor Moshe Lador and attorney Avia Alef, the office's economic affairs chief. Lador and Alef have written that Lieberman should be indicted in the main case, which involves the transferring of hundreds of millions dollars to companies owned by Lieberman in Israel, Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands.

When the petition was submitted on March 21, the court ordered the state to submit its preliminary response by May 1. On Monday, Nitzan wrote to the court that "because of a heavy work burden, we will not be able to prepare the response and submit it on time."

The High Court rarely goes against the attorney general's recommendation; still the petitioners say Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein's decision to close the main case is flawed enough to justify intervention. The petitioners say Weinstein made assumptions that made his decision biased and unreasonable in the extreme, adding that the economic affairs department would have recommended the prosecution of anyone else in such a case.

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