Lieberman Stripped of Attorney-client Privilege in Bribery Probe

Police suspect Yisrael Beiteinu chief took hundreds of thousands of dollars while serving as minister in 2001-2004.

The Tel Aviv District Court on Thursday authorized the police to examine documents seized from the office of MK Avigdor Lieberman's lawyer, rejecting the claim that the documents were protected by attorney-client privilege.

However, the court deferred implementation of the decision for 30 days to give the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman time to appeal it to the Supreme Court.

Police suspect Lieberman of having taken hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bribes while serving as a cabinet minister from 2001 to 2004. The bribes, which police believe were paid by businessmen Martin Schlaff and Michael Chernoy, were allegedly transferred via companies owned by either Lieberman or his daughter, Michal Lieberman-Galon.

Police also suspect that Lieberman continued to engage in private business while serving as a minister, in violation of both the law and the affidavit that he submitted to the state comptroller.

Finally, police suspect that Lieberman's attorney, Yoav Many, abetted the alleged crimes, which could include bribe-taking, fraud, breach of trust, money laundering and falsifying corporate documents.

After police raided Many's office last year, they put the documents they seized in a sealed envelope and gave it to the court, since Lieberman and Many claimed they were protected by attorney-client privilege. In December 2007, the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court rejected this argument, saying there were valid suspicions that Many had violated the law, and therefore, attorney-client privilege no longer applied. Lieberman and Many then appealed this decision to the district court.

On Thursday, the district court rejected the appeal. Classified material presented by the police, wrote Judge Shmuel Baruch, creates "a disturbing picture, which indicates prima facie involvement by Lieberman, his daughter and, I am sorry to say, attorney Many as well, in acts tainted by more than a tinge of criminality."

Many's actions, he added, "deviate from the normal or accepted scope of legal service that an attorney is supposed to give his client, to the point of prima facie involvement in criminal activity, in a manner that justifies negating [attorney-client] privilege."

Baruch rejected Lieberman's claim that the police were persecuting him. He also rejected Many's argument that the police declared him a suspect only after the magistrate's court judge said he could not be stripped of his privilege if he were merely a witness. Baruch said that new developments since that hearing had strengthened the grounds for viewing Many as a suspect.

Baruch did accept the argument that mere suspicion of wrongdoing - the test used by the lower court - was not sufficient to justify removing attorney-client privilege; "prima facie evidence" was necessary to justify such a step. However, he said, the classified material supplied by the police provided that evidence.

Lieberman's defense attorney, Yaron Kostelits, protested the fact that Baruch's decision was based on classified material, which Lieberman and his attorneys were not even allowed to see, and could therefore not refute. He said Lieberman had not yet decided whether to appeal. But Michal Lieberman-Galon's lawyer, Micha Pettman, said his client would appeal.

Attorney Dror Arad-Ayalon, who represented the Bar Association at the hearings, said he was pleased with Baruch's ruling, as the "prima facie evidence" test strengthened attorney-client privilege.