AG: No Legal Reason to Bar Lieberman From Serving as FM

Group asks court to bar Yisrael Beiteinu chief from serving in gov't while criminal probe against him is ongoing.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz asked the High Court of Justice on Sunday to reject a petition seeking to prevent Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman from serving as foreign minister in the incoming government, and preventing him from appointing fellow party members to positions that involve the enforcement of laws.

The petition, submitted last week by the non-profit watchdog Movement for Quality Government in Israel, cites an ongoing criminal investigation against Lieberman as the reason to prevent him from serving in the government.

In response to the petition, the court said that the issues raised in the petition were of a public-political nature, and did not qualify as a legal matter.

"When a man who is being criminally investigated by the police serves as a senior minister it raises some weighty questions, but these questions are not for the court to answer," the state response read.

Mazuz argued that the criminal investigation currently underway against Lieberman is nearing its end, and that Lieberman would likely be questioned soon. However, the investigation is not yet complete and it is too early to determine whether investigation will produce enough evidence to support an indictment. In a letter to the High Court, Mazuz said that law enforcement officials will do everything in their power to expedite the investigation and come to a decision at the earliest possible time.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel petitioned the High Court over police suspicion that Lieberman committed crimes such as bribery, breach of trust, money laundering and falsifying corporate documents, both in the past and in the present. The watchdog group argued that appointing Lieberman to the foreign minister's post would violate public interest and would severely harm the public's faith in the government, and must therefore be prevented.

In the petition, the movement argues that serving as a foreign minister might pose a conflict of interest for Lieberman as the investigation against him is being conducted abroad while he would be in charge of Israel's relations with foreign countries. In response, Mazuz argued that a foreign minister does not have the legal authority to ask for legal assistance from other countries on behalf of Israel, but rather it is the attorney general and the Israel Police that have this authority.

The non-profit movement also asked the court to instruct Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu to offer a reasonable explanation as to why he refuses to void his coalition agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu, under which Lieberman is promised the foreign ministry portfolio, or why he will not act to prevent this appointment.

In addition, the group asked the court to revoke agreements under which Lieberman will be authorized to appoint an MK from his party to the position of public security minister, and appoint three additional MKs to the legislative ministerial committee. They also asked the court to prevent Lieberman from appointing the chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and the party's representative in the ministerial committee charged with appointing judges.

Mazuz argued that "even if there is a distant conflict of interest, that is not to say that there is any legal reason to prevent a party member from serving as public security minister." He added that the petition to prevent the appointment is an "exaggeration" and could turn Yisrael Beiteinu into a "disabled party."

As to the appointment of Yisrael Beiteinu members to legislation positions, the attorney general argued that it is the government that determines the makeup of the ministerial committees and that, in accordance with the coalition agreement, Yisrael Beiteinu must be represented in ministerial committees in direct correlation to its size.