Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh, the diplomat at the center of the newest allegations involving Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, was forced to go on leave on Wednesday pending further police investigations into his actions.
Foreign Ministry officials confirmed that the vacation request for Ben-Aryeh came following meetings between the Civil Service Commission and ministry officials. The police reportedly passed on allegations against Ben-Aryeh to the Civil Service Commission, which is expected to open disciplinary proceedings against him.
Ben-Aryeh is a former envoy to Belarus and was set to take up the post as Israel’s ambassador to Latvia and Lithuania in the summer.
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According to one law enforcement source, Ben-Aryeh confessed during questioning in recent days to opening – while he was Israel’s envoy to Minsk in 2008 – an envelope containing a confidential police request addressed to authorities in Belarus asking for assistance with an investigation into Lieberman’s affairs.
The document contained secret information pertaining to the investigation, and included the names of persons of interest to the investigation and bank account details, according to reports.
Ben-Aryeh has been questioned on a number of occasions over the past few weeks, and is suspected of passing the information on to Lieberman when the two men met in Belarus in October 2008.
In February 2009, just after Israel’s general election, when the country was anxiously waiting to hear whether Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu party would join a Likud- or a Kadima-led government, Lieberman flew off for five days to Minsk for what was described as rest and relaxation.
After his tenure as ambassador to Belarus ended, Ben-Aryeh returned to Jerusalem and was appointed Lieberman’s adviser on Russia and Euro-Asia inside his bureau. Police are also investigating whether this promotion to diplomatic adviser was linked to the alleged illegal tip-off.
Foreign Ministry workers, meanwhile, were stunned by the developments, saying that it was an “embarrassment” and has “cast a heavy cloud” over the ministry.
Until now, all the allegations of wrongdoing by Lieberman involved actions allegedly committed outside the walls of the ministry.
“But this involves the Foreign Ministry, and it has cast a heavy cloud ,” one official said.
One worker said the allegations that an ambassador tipped off Lieberman “opened up a can of worms,” with people walking around wondering if anyone else inside the ministry – anyone else appointed by Lieberman – was involved in anything similar.
Neither Lieberman nor anyone else in the ministry administration has called together the workers to talk the matter over with them, or has offered any explanations.
Ben-Aryeh, according to officials in the ministry, came to work there
from Israel Radio in the early 1990s after the Iron Curtain fell and
Israel suddenly found itself in need of Russian-speakers to deal with
establishing diplomatic ties with Russia and the former Soviet
A number of workers were absorbed into the ministry at the time without
having gone through the regular cadets course, one ministry official
The official described Ben-Aryeh as a quiet, “grey diplomat” who worked
in the Euro-Asia Department but did not necessarily stand out, and
whose appointment as ambassador to Minsk, as well as his selection as
one of Lieberman’s top advisers and then the appointment to Riga,