Analysis |

Lieberman's Acquittal: The Attorney General Blew It

How did Yehuda Weinstein and his office fail to realize they hadn't proved their case against the former foreign minister?

Ido Baum
Ido Baum
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Ido Baum
Ido Baum

Israel's attorney general put all his money on just one case against Avigdor Lieberman. And today, he lost.

"I can recognize when a case is heading for acquittal," Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein had told to his people at the office, who had opposed closing down Lieberman's shell companies. But it seems he couldn't after all.

Weinstein had personally shepherded the so-called "ambassador case" against Lieberman to trial (the charges included fraud and breach of trust: Ze’ev Ben Aryeh, who as ambassador to Belarus was privy to information about a police investigation into Lieberman, gave that information to Lieberman). Weinstein staked his reputation, as a former star lawyer and as the present head of public prosecution, on winning this case. And he didn't.

This was supposed to be the case that would reinvigorate the State Attorney's office in its struggle against state corruption. But his gamble failed.

The fiasco is all the more awful given that Lieberman's acquittal was based on rulings on the facts. Which in turn means: the prosecution is extremely unlikely to win any appeal against the acquittal.

What seemed like a solid factual basis for misconduct collapsed, in the eyes of the three Jerusalem Magistrates Court judges. This was a very significant achievement for Lieberman's defense team, led by Yaakov Weinroth, aided by Giora Adereth and Nati Simhoni.

The judges were not convinced beyond reasonable doubt, they wrote, that Lieberman realized that the note handed to him by Ambassador Ze'ev Ben Aryeh was confidential information from an investigation conducted by the Israeli attorney general. The prosecution did not sufficiently disprove Lieberman's version – that he could have thought the source of the note given to him at a hotel in Minsk was the Belarusian authorities, and that the ambassador's acts did not constitute a criminal offense, the judges ruled.

First of all, this assertion begs reevaluation of how the attorney general's office appraises information. How was the office able to expose every possible factual flaw in the "shell companies" case, yet here - where there were so few facts and pieces of evidence - they failed to see that this paucity could ruin the case? This bears examining.

From the moment the judges cast doubt on the main base of the severe conflict-of-interests claim, all the other issues became marginal.

The judges rejected the attorney general's argument that appointing Ben Aryeh to the post of diplomatic advisor, and then to ambassador, amounted to promotions. They accepted the versions of the Foreign Ministry officials in the trial, who said that Lieberman did not approach them regarding Ben Aryeh's appointment. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who was the only one who claimed Lieberman had spoken with him, did not convince them: in fact they declared his testimony was dubious.

Lieberman did knew of the note and the deeds of the ambassador, and he kept silent: but in retrospect, what he knew does not seem grave enough; and under such circumstances his silence is nothing more than "unseemly." And obviously, not everything that is "unseemly" is necessarily criminal.

Also, the judges believe that Ben Aryeh's appointment to the post of ambassador was worthy, so that in this respect there was even no particular deviation from any norm.

From the point of view of Attorney General Weinstein, this was supposed to be a smart little indictment. Eve a clever one. The acquittal in the ambassador case is not so much a total exoneration of Lieberman as it is a stinging defeat for the attorney general.

Avigdor Lieberman. Illustration by Amos Biderman.Credit: Amos Biderman
Lieberman at Western Wall.Credit: Oren Nahshon

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