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
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.
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
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
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
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
“All rumors about a plea bargain, as well as other rumors, are
without foundation, and the truth will emerge in the court,” he
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
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.
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
Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich called for Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu to denounce Liberman and his “corrupt behavior
“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
“The citizens of Israel deserve a government that follows the
rule of law and is a worthy model for the nation,” she said.
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
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.
said that Liberman accepted the information knowing that Ben- Aryeh was trying
to illegally aid him in combating the investigation against
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
Ben-Aryeh was approved for the new post and would have started it
except that the investigation against him for leaking to Liberman became
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