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A-G submits updated Liberman indictment to Knesset
By YONAH JEREMY BOB AND HERB KEINON
27/12/2012
Former FM's involvement in Belarus Ambassador Affair described as more active than passive in updated indictment.
 
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein presented the Knesset with an updated and somewhat more serious indictment for fraud and breach of public trust on Thursday against Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman regarding the Belarus Ambassador Affair.

The main change in the updated indictment is that former foreign minister Liberman’s alleged involvement in helping former ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh to become ambassador to Latvia is now described as more active than passive.

The change follows questioning of the members of the Foreign Ministry’s appointments panel, including Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, and the requestioning of Liberman.

The indictment still focuses on Liberman’s failure to report that Ben-Aryeh illegally leaked to him information regarding an investigation against him for an alleged massive money-laundering scheme, and on allegations that Liberman acted on Ben-Aryeh’s behalf to get jobs at the Foreign Ministry as a “payment” of sorts after the fact.

Liberman resigned as foreign minister and waived his parliamentary immunity two weeks ago when the initial draft indictment was presented to the Knesset.

The Justice Ministry spokesman explained on Thursday that since Liberman had only waived his parliamentary immunity regarding that draft indictment out of an abundance of caution, Weinstein resubmitted the updated document to the Knesset so Liberman could once again waive his immunity regarding the new, somewhat more serious charges.

Later on Thursday, presumably after receiving word from Liberman that he would again waive his immunity, the Justice Ministry announced that it would file the indictment with the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Sunday morning.

The indictment now indicates that Liberman discussed the possible ambassadorship with Ben-Aryeh when the latter asked him for advice, and he told Ben-Aryeh that he would support his candidacy.

Next, the updated document says, Liberman summoned Ayalon and told him that they should appoint Ben-Aryeh to the ambassadorship.

Ayalon, in his capacity as deputy foreign minister, served as chairman of the ministry’s seven-person “higher appointments” committee responsible for filling vacancies at embassies and consulates abroad, including who would receive the Latvia ambassadorship.

Liberman told Ayalon that Ben-Aryeh was the most qualified candidate for the job, although he did not mention to Ayalon the earlier incident in which Ben-Aryeh had leaked to Liberman information, according to the indictment.

Ayalon, who barely knew Ben-Aryeh, then acted, based on Liberman’s encouragement and documents before the committee, to try to ensure his appointment, the indictment says.

The document does not specify what actions Ayalon took in that regard, although the issue will probably be fleshed out by witnesses in court.

Liberman issued a statement responding to the amended indictment by again denying any criminal wrongdoing. He said nothing had changed in light of the questioning of additional witnesses and allegations that he asked Ayalon to appoint Ben-Aryeh as ambassador to Latvia.

Liberman said he wanted the issue to be clarified in court, and to that end had already informed the Knesset that he was waiving his parliamentary immunity – in addition to having quit his post as foreign minister – so that the matter could be quickly resolved in court.

“All rumors about a plea bargain, as well as other rumors, are without foundation, and the truth will emerge in the court,” he said.

Earlier this month, Liberman unceremoniously left Ayalon off his party’s Knesset candidates list. Now, Ayalon, along with 22 other witnesses, including Ben-Aryeh and Yossi Gal, ambassador to Paris and a former Foreign Ministry director- general, as well as many other high-ranking Foreign Ministry, Justice Ministry and police officials, will testify in the case that could determine Liberman’s legal and political fate.

The spike in the number of witnesses is reducing the chances that the trial can be finished in time for Liberman to be a minister when a new government is set up in February or March.

Ayalon’s office would not comment on the matter earlier on Thursday, although later, when asked if he had acted appropriately, he told members of the media, “I think so,” and also said his recent statement to police was the first time he testified on the issue.

A Foreign Ministry official said it was not unusual for ministers to make clear whom they preferred for various ambassadorial posts. What made this case different, he said, was the allegation that Liberman wanted to promote Ben-Aryeh because of the information Ben-Aryeh gave him.

Liberman says that Ben- Aryeh, a Foreign Ministry veteran, was a worthy candidate for the post. Some officials in the ministry have disputed this assertion, saying Ben-Aryeh did not stand out as an ambassador to Belarus, and that his appointment to Latvia less than a year after returning from that position went against Foreign Ministry practice, which is that returning diplomats wait two years in Israel before being dispatched to a new post abroad.

While the above additions to the indictment were notable and increase the possibility of a conviction and a later finding of moral turpitude, no new counts were added and most of the allegations that have been swirling around the media are not mentioned in the new indictment.

For example, media reports had speculated that Liberman had spoken directly to a number of the appointments committee members to push for Ben-Aryeh. There were also reports that Liberman had hidden from the committee various negative reports about Ben- Aryeh as an ambassador in Belarus. None of these allegations found their way into the new indictment.

Even the text regarding Liberman’s talk with Ayalon, in which Liberman told Ayalon that Ben-Aryeh was the best candidate, while possibly damaging to Liberman’s case, does not appear to match the allegations of blatant, illegal tampering by Liberman with the process as speculated about in the media.

An indictment is something of an outline, and presumably the 23 listed witnesses will provide more specific information, even though none of their concrete testimony is mentioned in the document.

Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich called for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to denounce Liberman and his “corrupt behavior pattern.”

“Instead of celebrating with showy parties that cost hundreds of thousands of shekels and turning [Liberman] into a hero, you should suspend him from the election campaign,” she said.

According to Yacimovich, Netanyahu is sending a message to young people that it is all right to be corrupt.

“The citizens of Israel deserve a government that follows the rule of law and is a worthy model for the nation,” she said.

Liberman and Ben-Aryeh knew each other for years before Ben-Aryeh worked for him as an ambassador in the Foreign Ministry.

The indictment alleges that on February 27, 2008, Ben- Aryeh received a request for legal assistance from the Justice Ministry that he was supposed to transmit to Belarus officials as an official request to help the ministry gather evidence against Liberman there, including documents and witness testimony.

Sometime between October 19 and 23, 2008, Liberman visited the country. Ben-Aryeh met him at Liberman’s hotel and asked to meet with Liberman in private, the indictment says.

During the meeting in Liberman’s room, Ben-Aryeh showed Liberman the investigative material that he had been entrusted to transmit to the Belarus officials, including a note with some of the key information that Liberman reviewed and placed in his pocket, the indictment says.

The indictment said that Liberman accepted the information knowing that Ben- Aryeh was trying to illegally aid him in combating the investigation against Liberman.

Subsequently, Liberman offered Ben-Aryeh a position as an adviser in his bureau in the Foreign Ministry, which Ben- Aryeh started on April 16, 2009. From October to December 2009, Liberman aided Ben- Aryeh in moving forward to receive the ambassadorship for Latvia by failing at several opportunities to reveal that Ben-Aryeh had illegally shared information with him and by actively helping him by speaking to Ayalon, the indictment says.

Ben-Aryeh was approved for the new post and would have started it except that the investigation against him for leaking to Liberman became public.

Last May he was convicted of leaking the information. There is no allegation that there was a deal cut beforehand, but that may not make a difference.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.
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