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Analysis: The writing is now on the wall
By YONAH JEREMY BOB
03/12/2012
State prosecutor Moshe Lador’s speech likely marks the beginning of the end of the Liberman saga.
 
Unless there are major last-minute developments, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman is going to get off most of the bribery, fraud and money-laundering charges that have been held against him now for years.

The media has been speculating for some time that the delay made closing the cases against Liberman more likely.

Earlier last week, more specific reports circulated that most of the charges would be dropped and elaborated upon the reasons for doing so. But the reports also stated that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein would file a narrow indictment against Liberman for breach of public trust in his conduct with former ambassador Ze’ev Ben- Aryeh, convicted of sharing investigative information with Liberman about the case against him.

Next, Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino gave a speech last week decrying the dragging out of cases for many years against a suspect, another top public display of support for dropping charges against Liberman.

But the straw that broke the camel’s back came from the head prosecutor of the State Attorney’s Office, Moshe Lador, who on Friday, without naming Liberman, essentially gave a pre-closing the case explanation of why the case needed to be closed at an Israel Bar Association event.

Reports have indicated that while the state has tons of documentary evidence against Liberman, it has failed across the board to get witnesses to testify against him.

The foreign minister is under investigation for charges of fraud, breach of trust, obtaining benefits through deceit, money laundering and witness harassment.

According to a draft indictment made public more than a year ago, Liberman is suspected of receiving millions of dollars from private businesspeople, through six to eight straw companies between 2001 and 2008 – while a member of Knesset and holding various cabinet positions.

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Addressing this phenomenon, again without expressly saying the name Liberman, Lador said that public corruption cases are highly problematic in getting witnesses.

He said that oftentimes the law is being broken and public money taken fraudulently in a way that hurts the public as a whole, but that there is usually no specific victim or complainant who was hurt individually by a publicly corrupt act, who wants to testify.

Lador also said that many witnesses are concerned about retaliation against them for testifying, especially if the case gets closed and they need to continue working for the public official who they turned on.

Even more complex than that, Lador noted that in light of recent developments, potential state witnesses may decide against testifying because even convicted politicians now have a record of returning to power, with a chance to take revenge against those who turned on them.

Lador implied that the power of the media itself has become outsized and has intimidated judges from taking courageous stances against popular politicians – even if they believe the politician is guilty.

In one of the clearest implied references to Liberman, Lador emphasized the problems associated with gathering evidence and getting witnesses to testify from foreign countries.

It has been widely reported that many of the key witnesses in any case against Liberman would be from foreign countries, where the funds that he was suspected of laundering originated or passed through.

Lador said that some countries had no agreements with Israel to assist in any way, and even those that did would not necessarily be helpful in more than document collection, as opposed to pushing one of their own nationals to testify in a convoluted Israeli case.

It is true that at the end of the day, it is Weinstein’s call – and not Lador’s. But if anything, most have thought of Lador as the most passionate proponent of bringing borderline public corruption cases, and Weinstein as the more cautious of the two.

If Lador has thrown in the towel, it is hard to imagine Weinstein taking up the flag against Liberman on his own.

So it appears that most allegations against Liberman will be dropped.

What of the Ben-Aryeh affair and the charges of breach of public trust? Lador did not address these issues, and to date, only anonymous sources have surmised that these charges would be filed.

Even if these charges are filed, it may not have a huge impact on Liberman’s trajectory, especially now that he is part of the larger and dominant Likud party.

Also, the state may decide to close the older charges now and may put off the decision about the Ben-Aryeh affair to a later date – such as after the state’s appeal against the acquittals of former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Liberman is still not out of the woods, but after Lador’s speech he is closer to turning the corner.
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