In Blow to State Prosecutors, High-profile Lawyer Acquitted of Bribery and Money Laundering

Yaakov Weinroth has represented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and two of Israel's richest businessmen; Weinroth indicted in 2009.

Yaakov Weinroth, a high-profile lawyer who has represented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and two of Israel's richest businessmen, Arcadi Gaydamak and Michael Chernoy, was acquitted yesterday of bribery and money laundering.

Prosecutors said Weinroth, who was indicted in 2009, arranged for Shuki Vita, in his capacity as a Dan region tax assessor, to get special tax agreements for Gaydamak, Chernoy and other clients of Weinroth. After the tax deals were signed, Weinroth received more than NIS 30 million in legal fees.

Vita was acquitted of taking bribes, but was convicted on three charges of fraud and breach of trust.

The state prosecution is expected to appeal the bribery acquittals and Weinroth's acquittal on money-laundering charges. It said the court found that by using Weinroth as a lawyer and making tax deals with Weinroth's clients, Vita went out of his way for Weinroth, representing a clear conflict of interest.

Vita is expected to appeal his fraud and breach-of-trust convictions.

According to the prosecution, Weinroth provided Vita with legal services, some for free and some at low cost.

But Tel Aviv District Court Judge Gilad Neuthal said there was a reasonable possibility that, as Weinroth argued, the fees he charged Vita were on a par with the fees his law firm charged for similar cases - a possibility, the judge said, the police should have checked during their investigation. If so, the legal fees Vita was charged had nothing to do with his work as a tax assessor.

"Key sections of the prosecution's case have an evidentiary basis," ruled Neuthal. "But the complete evidence, including fundamental sections in the evidence of the prosecution itself... does not indicate that there is only one single possible conclusion that necessarily points to the guilt of the accused."

Neuthal said it was plausible that Weinroth and Vita had not committed bribery, and noted that the prosecution had not indicated what the full legal costs would have been if Weinroth's fee had indeed been reduced for Vita.

The driving force behind the Weinroth indictment was State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, who pursued the charges even though other prosecutors expressed doubts that Weinroth would be convicted.

"We are returning to the office more invigorated, more sensitive," Weinroth said after the ruling. "Today, I understand, on an experiential level, what a client undergoes in these moments. I thought that I knew. After what has happened to me, I do know."

Weinroth would not comment on why the prosecution had sought to charge him with bribery and money-laundering, saying: "This case had no foundation and no basis."

The prosecution said Weinroth had been acquitted because of reasonable doubt, which, it said, "proves that it was appropriate to bring this indictment before a court."

The prosecutor's office said it would not be deterred from filing other justified indictments, regardless of whether it was certain to get a conviction.

But Weinroth's lawyer said reasonable doubt had nothing to do with it. "In contrast to the impression that the prosecution is trying to leave, this is not an acquittal because of reasonable doubt," said Weinroth's lawyer, Iris Niv-Sabag.