The stakes just got even higher.
Only a month after resigning as foreign
minister, Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman may exit political life
more quickly than anyone could have predicted.
Convinced of his innocence
and possibly playing some other cards, Liberman announced on Monday that he
would quit politics entirely if he is convicted of any crime, no matter how
minor and even if there is no finding of moral turpitude.
shocking from a legal perspective because the chances of his being convicted of
at least breach of public trust are far higher than being convicted of fraud and
being labeled as having committed acts constituting moral
Until now, fraud and moral turpitude were thought to be the
all-important questions, as a finding of either would likely sideline Liberman
from politics for a minimum of seven years.
Politically, breach of trust
is not much more than a legal curiosity.
If people bet on the outcomes of
court cases, the bets on Liberman’s case have started to become clearer. But for
fraud and moral turpitude, the case could be murky.
Almost no one appears
to have suggested that Liberman gave a direct order to promote Ambassador Ze’ev
Ben-Aryeh in a manner that was completely unjustified and unfounded. Ben-Aryeh
is a former envoy to Belarus who was convicted of leaking to the then-foreign
minister classified information about a money laundering investigation against
Liberman, which has since been closed.
Liberman is accused of failing to
report Ben-Aryeh’s indiscretion and of subsequently helping him obtain a posting
to a new ambassadorship as “payment” for loyalty. It has come to be called the
Belarus Ambassador Affair.
But the accusations center around appearances.
In other words, if Ben-Aryeh had not leaked anything to Liberman, the alleged
irregularities probably would not have raised eyebrows.
said Liberman told Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon that Ben-Aryeh should
get the ambassadorship, and that Ayalon moved forward to try to implement
Liberman’s recommendation. But so far there have been no allegations that anyone
confronted Liberman about the choice or that he waived them off.
are allegations that Ben- Aryeh was not as good an ambassador in Belarus as
Liberman claimed, and that he should have been made to wait longer for a new
posting abroad, according to standard procedures. But he did have ambassadorial
experience, and Liberman’s words to Ayalon, according to the indictment, were
that he believed Ben-Aryeh was best suited for the job – hardly an indication of
To prove fraud and to some extent moral turpitude, the prosecutor
would have to show that Liberman acted in bad faith, and it is not clear whether
any witnesses would even claim this. It also appears that other ministry
personnel, including Liberman, would testify that there were no irregularities
So intent, and with it fraud and moral turpitude, are going to be
tough to prove.
Breach of public trust in Liberman’s case basically
requires only that the court say he had an obligation to report Ben- Aryeh’s
indiscretion and failed to do so. Liberman has admitted he failed to report
this, but his response was that he did nothing wrong and did not want to ruin
the career of a talented diplomat for a momentary lapse of judgment that harmed
Maybe the court will view this as a valid excuse. But if it
doesn’t, Liberman could be convicted of breach of public trust, at the very
least for not initially reporting Ben-Aryeh’s passing on of information. He also
could be separately convicted for not reporting to the Foreign Ministry later
when Ben-Aryeh was up for a promotion.
If he sticks to his word, the
Liberman game would then be over.
Since the barriers to convicting him of
breach of public trust are objectively much lower than on the other issues, he
has made a historic gamble with his career. He could be convicted for breach of
public trust but not on the other issues, and then go back to being foreign
minister in half a year or so. But not anymore.
Why take the gamble?
First, it appears unmistakable from Liberman’s body language that he believes he
will be found innocent. It must be remembered that a day before he resigned as
foreign minister, he told the media he had a feeling of the “Garden of Eden” and
that he would remain foreign minister.
There might also be political
considerations, such as reclaiming the moral high ground as the country is about
to vote, or trying to pressure the court into a “no conviction” scenario in
which it could take a middle-of-the- road decision – convicting him for breach of
trust, but not ending his career.
But one thing has become clear over the
past month: Liberman’s gambles on legal outcomes are not always as brilliant as
his gambles on politics, and this could be his last gamble.
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