Why Did ex-Defense Minister Lieberman Receive Millions From Russia?

Israeli TV investigation looks for answers but ends up with questions about a 20-year-old scandal, in which Lieberman allegedly convinced Russian officials to fix the ruble's exchange rate to save an Austrian bank

Former Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, March 6, 2018.
Mark Israel Sellem

Did Avigdor Lieberman, who resigned as Israel's defense minister last week, receive a fee of $3 million in order to help manipulate the exchange rate of the Russian ruble and prevent the collapse of an Austrian bank?

Channel 10's "Hamakor" ("The Source") investigative program has exposed new details about the ex-minister's role in a 20-year-old scandal that is still unresolved.

In 1998, according to the report, Austria’s largest bank was about to lose millions of dollars due to the Russian currency crisis. One of the bank’s lawyers recommended that the institution hire someone with senior government connections in Moscow to help out. That man, who had served as director general of Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office up until a few months beforehand, was Avigdor Lieberman.

The bank hired Lieberman, and he delivered as promised. When questioned subsequently by police, managers at the bank confessed that they had hired Lieberman to mediate between it and authorities in Russia, and that they’d paid him a fee of about $3 million after he got Russian officials to take action that saved the bank from a devastating loss. The managers added that they didn't know who Lieberman had contacted as part of his efforts. Law enforcement officials claimed that he kept a substantial proportion of his earnings in Cyprus.

The investigative TV program revealed that Yaron Mientkavich, then an employee of the state prosecutor’s office and currently a magistrate's court judge, wrote at the time that, when questioned, Lieberman’s version of events seemed “as fantastic as a fairy tale.” Added Mientkavich: “There is a strong suspicion that this is bribe.”

Yehuda Shefer, former deputy state prosecutor, told "Hamakor": “There is no doubt that the only reasonable explanation for something like this is that someone in Moscow wanted to find a legal way to transfer funds to Lieberman.”

According to Shefer, when Lieberman was asked about this during his investigation, he allegedly admitted he had received money to help adjust the ruble’s exchange rate, and claimed that the only person he spoke with about this was Artyom Borovik, a senior Russian journalist killed in the crash in 2000 of a plane carrying Chechen oil industry executives in Russian airspace.

The "Hamakor" program, broadcast on Monday, focused on how Lieberman has prevailed over the law enforcement establishment after years of investigations have been conducted against him.

In response, Lieberman told the show's reporters that he is not interested “in responding to fake news.”

Lieberman has faced multiple police investigations over the years on such charges as forgery and fraud, bribery and breach of trust.