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Liberman indictment delayed; no longer FM
By YONAH JEREMY BOB AND GIL HOFFMAN
18/12/2012
Yisrael Beytenu party leader no longer foreign minister; Financial crimes unit indictment for fraud to be filed in "coming days."
 
The indictment that was due to be filed against Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman – shortly after his parliamentary immunity was waived and his resignation as foreign minister went into effect – was delayed at the last minute.

The delay may be due to the State Attorney’s Office’s need to interview potentially important witnesses whom it has up to now neglected to question.

Eight members of a Foreign Ministry appointments panel were never questioned in regard to the investigation involving Liberman and former ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh, according to a Channel 10 report.

The Justice Ministry spokesman said only that the indictment would be filed in “the coming days,” after having confirmed only an hour earlier that the indictment would be filed on Tuesday barring any major surprises. Liberman’s resignation went into effect at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

The charges were expected to include fraud and breach of public trust in the Belarus Ambassador Affair, based on the draft indictment that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein forwarded to the Knesset last Thursday.

Liberman has denied all wrongdoing and called for expedited legal proceedings.

Liberman responded angrily to the delay in issuing an indictment, Channel 10 reported, threatening to petition the High Court of Justice if the state does not file it this week.

A source close to Liberman denied the report.

Liberman said during a speech to Yisrael Beytenu activists in Safed that he heard “for some reason, an indictment wasn’t issued. I hope it will be issued tomorrow or no later than the day after.”

He added: “I have no doubt about what the result will be, just as I have no doubt about what the result will be on January 22,” when the national election will be held. Liberman blamed the State Attorney’s Office for allegedly leaking information from a meeting with his attorneys.

Another possible reason for the delay is that a plea bargain deal may be in the works. The state has opposed any plea bargain deal that does not include a finding of “moral turpitude,” which could knock Liberman out of public life for seven years or more.

Liberman has repeatedly denied any interest in a plea bargain, including saying on Tuesday that the case “will be decided by a court.”

Another suggested reason for pushing off the indictment was that Liberman’s lawyers had supposedly asked for a one-day delay, since some might interpret that his parliamentary immunity was not waived until Wednesday – as opposed to Tuesday morning.

It is also possible that the state is looking into a report by Channel 10 on Monday night that not all key witnesses were questioned, and the state may need to add graver charges against Liberman.

Sources indicated on Monday that the State Attorney’s Office was not able yet to take a position on the news report, and certainly had not denied it.

Channel 10 reported on Tuesday night that the attorney-general was in contact with top police officials about possibly conducting additional questioning.

It also aired an interview with a top Foreign Ministry official, Victor Harel, who said that Ben-Aryeh was “not a standout ambassador,” contradicting Liberman’s public statements last Thursday that Ben- Aryeh was promoted because he was clearly “much better than the others.”

Harel showed the cameras what he called an internal evaluation of the former ambassador that described him as average at best.

According to the Channel 10 report, some members of the Foreign Ministry appointments panel said Liberman actively pushed for Ben-Aryeh’s promotion in the ministry.

The report also said that police had never questioned Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon in the affair.

Liberman has maintained that his main alleged criminal act was not actively revealing Ben-Aryeh’s illegal conduct to the appointments panel.

Ben-Aryeh was forced to resign from the Foreign Ministry after he confessed last year to passing on classified information to Liberman regarding an investigation into the then-foreign minister. The Justice Ministry requested in 2008 that Ben-Aryeh pass on a document requesting legal assistance to the Belarusian authorities in an investigation of Liberman, and Ben- Aryeh copied the information and gave it to Liberman.

Ben-Aryeh was convicted last May of obstruction of justice.

Responding to the reports that police failed to question key Foreign Ministry witnesses, the spokeswoman for the Serious and International Crime Unit said on Tuesday that they were not commenting on the case or the Channel 10 report, because as far as they were concerned the investigation was finished in 2009 and was already passed onto the State Attorney’s Office.

Any questions about the case must be referred to the State Attorney’s Office, she added.

In general, the spokeswoman continued, by the time police send a case to the state, it means that they have finished the investigation – and if they had not believed the Liberman case was finished they would not have passed it on.

An off-the-record source at the Serious and International Crime Unit said in regard to the case: “You shouldn’t expect that just because of an item in the press, we’re going to go back to 2009 or somewhere else and say something different than what we did then.”

Although Liberman handed in his resignation as foreign minister on Sunday, he remains an MK and the chairman of Yisrael Beytenu.

Ben Hartman contributed to this report.
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