Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was questioned by police Tuesday on suspicion of having received an illegal tip-off in 2008 informing him of the police’s suspicions against him and allegedly allowing him to subvert the investigation process under way at that time.
The tip-off was allegedly delivered to Lieberman by Israel’s former ambassador to Belarus, Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh, who was asked by the Israel Police’s National Fraud and Lahav 433 units in August 2008 to pass along a request for assistance to law enforcement authorities in Belarus as part of the investigation into Lieberman’s affairs.
Lieberman was a member of Knesset at the time.
The request, which was sent to the embassy in Belarus via the Justice Ministry, contained confidential information on bank account details and individuals in Belarus, according to Hebrew media reports.
Police said the request had been marked “secret,” yet Ben-Aryeh had allegedly opened the envelope containing the document, made a copy of the request, and handed over the information to Lieberman a few months later, in October 2008, when the two met in Belarus.
“Requests for assistance of this kind are very detailed, and are aimed partly at convincing foreign law enforcement agencies to cooperate in the investigation. Certainly the target of the investigation is not supposed to gain access to such information,” a police source told The Jerusalem Post
The source added that Lieberman had answered all questions put to him on Tuesday. He is suspected of interfering with a police investigation and a violation of public office.
Ben-Aryeh currently serves as a diplomatic adviser in the Foreign Ministry, and police said they were “also investigating Ben Aryeh’s promotion and employment in the ministry in recent months.”
Police suspect Ben-Aryeh’s position could be linked to the alleged tip-off.
Lieberman was questioned for two hours on Tuesday, while Ben-Aryeh was questioned repeatedly in recent days, police said.
In August 2009, police said enough evidence existed to charge Lieberman for taking bribes, fraudulently receiving goods, violating public office, obstructing justice, harassing witnesses and laundering millions of shekels using a host of shell companies and bank accounts.
Freshly appointed Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein was briefed by state prosecutors on the Lieberman investigation last month.
Lieberman, meanwhile, launched a three-pronged offensive on Tuesday, soon after news of the investigation was leaked.
First, sources close to the foreign minister said the fact that police had leaked the investigation an hour after it concluded merely showed that they were trying to keep the Lieberman file alive and in the public eye because “they do not have anything substantial against him.”
Second, Lieberman’s lawyer asked Weinstein to investigate the source of the leak.
“My client presented himself to the police as requested, and answered all the questions asked,” Lieberman’s lawyer Yaron Kostelitz wrote to Weinstein. “And here, not more than an hour passed since the end of the investigation, and its details were leaked to the media by someone in the police. As a result, I request that you direct the police investigations department to open an inquiry into this leak.”
And third, Lieberman announced that he would file a temporary injunction on Wednesday in the High Court of Justice, directed at the head of the police investigations department, the attorney-general and state attorney to force them to explain why an internal investigation of other leaks in the Lieberman criminal case had been closed.
The High Court of Justice had ordered the police conduct an “intensive investigation” into leaks dating back to 2008, but that investigation has since been closed.
Sources close to Lieberman said that over the 14 years of investigations against him, whenever the cases were weakening, police had leaked new information to the public in an attempt to harm him.
A source in Israel Beiteinu accused the police of a “witch hunt” against their party leader.
“The behavior of the police is infuriating,” the source said. “But we
believe this [new investigation] won’t impact the decision of
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, who will not end up indicting him.”
MKs Daniel Ben-Simon (Labor) and Haim Oron (Meretz) called upon
Netanyahu to fire Lieberman, who they said was causing massive damage
to the country.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.