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Analysis: Will A-G indict Liberman pre-elections?
By YONAH JEREMY BOB
17/10/2012
No one knows for sure, but there is plenty to speculate about and the repercussions could be staggering.
 
Will Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman in the coming days? No one knows for sure, but there is plenty to speculate about and the repercussions could be staggering.

Depending on how bad the allegations would be, they could deal a body-blow to the influential Yisrael Beytenu party that Liberman both leads and dominates, and change the entire right-left bloc’s analysis.

That said, there are many less dramatic scenarios where Liberman could survive even being convicted without a major fall, comparable, perhaps to Ehud Olmert.

But first, for those who have long-forgotten, the foreign minister is under investigation for charges of fraud, breach of trust, obtaining benefits through deceit, money-laundering and witness harassment.

According to the only earlier draft indictment made available, Liberman is suspected of receiving millions of dollars from private businesspeople through six to eight straw companies between the years 2001 and 2008 – while a member of Knesset and holding various cabinet positions.

Liberman allegedly committed these acts while serving as transportation minister, national infrastructure minister and strategic affairs minister.

The draft indictment stated that Liberman initiated his business activities shortly after leaving his post as director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office in 1997.

He allegedly started by establishing two companies, one in Israel and one in Cyprus. Liberman’s companies, as well as others he subsequently founded or bought, received “enormous amounts, among them, funds that had nothing to do with the company’s activities and did not reflect the revenue from said activities,” said the state.

The draft said that when Liberman was elected as an MK for the first time in 1999, he conspired with his lawyer, Yoav Mani, to continue his business activities in violation of the law limiting the financial activity of elected officials.

“It is suspected that Mr. Liberman misrepresented himself before the public and the state comptroller in declaring that he had sold all of his shares in the companies and that he was no longer involved in their operations,” said the draft.

“This, in spite of the fact that he continued to conduct business through the companies and to receive income from the companies in his control, all the while submitting false reports of his activities and assets, reports he was obligated to submit due to his public role,” the draft continued.

Most notably, various close personal associates of Liberman, including his driver, were said to have run entire companies that he had founded and supposedly passed on to them.

When questioned, however, it appeared highly unlikely that the associates had the knowledge or management capacity to have done anything more than carry out the orders of someone else, such as Liberman.

It is also suspected that when Liberman resigned from office in 2004, he helped establish another company and registered it in the name of his then- 21-year-old daughter.

However, it is alleged that he remained the main beneficiary of the company’s earnings, including when he returned to public office.

In February 2011, the state closed the book on the bribery charges section of the investigation, due to the difficulty in gaining access to witnesses abroad.

Liberman is also suspected of getting tipped-off illegally by then-ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh in 2008, and allowing him to subvert the investigation against him.

At that point, police were investigating allegations that Liberman had accepted bribes and failed to report income to the tax authorities.

Ben-Aryeh was able to intercept aspects of the investigation since he was sent a package by the state to pass on to the Belarusian authorities requesting legal assistance – which nations sometimes give each other in gathering evidence that exists in a foreign country.

Rather, than merely passing on the request and its contents to Belarus, it is alleged that Ben-Aryeh shared the contents of the request with Liberman.

In June, Ben-Aryeh was convicted of disclosure in breach of duty and obstruction of justice as part of a plea bargain in which he admitted sharing classified information regarding the investigation against Liberman with Liberman.

The police have been investigating Liberman for different crimes since the 1990s. The latest investigation regarding Lieberman began in 2006.

On August 2, 2009, the police handed over the evidence it had gathered on the Liberman investigation to the state prosecution and recommended indicting him.

The foreign minister has already undergone three hearings with the state prosecution, extremely unusual in light of the fact that most suspects never even undergo a single pre-indictment hearing.

With a clearer view of what he is accused of, the second question remains. Will Liberman be indicted in the coming days, leading up to elections? There has been intense criticism of the state in general and Weinstein in particular for dragging their feet in deciding how to move forward with the case, neither attacking Liberman head-on nor giving him a public opportunity to clear his name.

About a year and a half ago, Weinstein said he had reviewed the case sufficiently to make a final decision.

As with Weinstein’s predecessor – who promised to file the indictment during his term, even if it was his final action in office – the indictment never came, but the case was also never closed.

Subsequently, Weinstein indicated he might make a decision a number of times, including after Passover, again in June and once more in July.

If the decision is going to be to indict Liberman, some say that there is a track record of the state filing indictments intentionally during election season, and Channel 2 and 10 reported last week that there would be a decision in two to three weeks, meaning any day now.

This news came almost immediately after the information that the Knesset was moving toward early elections.

There could be additional criticism regarding the state’s motivations if the indictment – which has been sitting for so long – just happens to be filed right as the election campaign kicks into gear.

Recent news reports have speculated that most state prosecutors involved in the matter think Liberman should be indicted, but that Weinstein has still not decided.

Also, even within the camp favoring indictment, the debate is hot on how strong the indictment should be in light of various evidentiary problems.

Another angle on the Liberman case is that Weinstein and the state were moving toward indicting him, only to start having second thoughts again as their flagship cases against former prime minister Ehud Olmert have either crumbled (the Jerusalem corruption trial) or appear to be crumbling (the Holyland trial in Tel Aviv).

While all state officials vehemently deny any connection between the cases, it is hard to ignore the power of the embarrassment the state has faced in the Olmert cases and how that could impact the decision to go after a foreign minister on a case which no one says is simple.

Many legal experts say that historically, the state has backed off from prosecuting public figures for years at a time after facing embarrassing losses, such as some prosecutions of local officials in the 1990s.

While maybe all citizens should be equal and be held to the same law, the fact is that a lost case against a regular citizen does not hurt the state prosecutions’ public standing the way a lost case does when the case topples a prime minister, or a foreign minister.

On the other hand, the Ben- Aryeh conviction does not bode well for Liberman.

Liberman can say he did nothing wrong and had no idea what Ben-Aryeh was showing him until it was too late.

He could add that he did not reveal Ben-Aryeh’s actions since he did not want to get the latter in trouble – especially for what might have been a confusing error, since Liberman was Ben-Aryeh’s boss as foreign minister.

Liberman can also say that the state has nothing on him unless they show something concrete he did illegally to thwart the investigation after the revelation – which the state may not be able to do.

Still, the picture of an ambassador and ally of Liberman’s breaking the rules to help him plays well with the rest of the narrative that the minister has been breaking the law for years, but using friends and underlings to keep him immune from wrongdoing.
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