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A-G Weinstein announces he won't appeal Liberman acquittal on fraud charges
By YONAH JEREMY BOB
18/12/2013
Attorney-general emphasizes that despite decision, he still believes Liberman's behavior in case unfitting for a public official.
 
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein decided on Wednesday not to appeal the acquittal of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on charges of fraud and breach of public trust.

The decision was the final nail in the coffin for attempts to convict Liberman of a crime, ending 17 years of legal problems that have plagued him.

Weinstein’s decision followed a defeat for the prosecution on November 6, in which the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court not only acquitted the foreign minister, but scolded the state for a weak and poorly prepared case.

The attorney-general said he made the decision on the basis of a joint recommendation from Moshe Lador, who was the state attorney (and thus head of the state prosecution) until Monday, and Lador’s replacement, Shai Nitzan. This aspect of the announcement refuted widespread speculation in the media that Lador would insist on appealing, as he did for the prosecution’s overall loss in the Jerusalem corruption trial against Ehud Olmert.

Weinstein said that in general the prosecution disfavors appealing, and that he and those advising him believed that an appeal would lose.

He noted that since the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court had made findings of fact that were different from the prosecution’s assertions regarding the Belarus Ambassador Affair that led to Liberman’s indictment, it was unlikely that a higher court would reverse the acquittal. Appeals courts rarely reverse lower courts, and even more rarely reverse lower courts based on factual issues, as opposed to mistakes in application of the relevant law.

Weinstein said that he stood by his decision to indict Liberman, and noted that the court had slammed the foreign minister’s behavior as “unfit, unethical and not up to the standards befitting a public official.”

Giora Aderet, one of Liberman’s lawyers, welcomed Weinstein’s decision. “The acquittal by the three judges of the magistrate’s court was correct legally and factually, and the attorney- general was correct not to appeal,” he said. “The decision brings to an end an era of many years of investigations and proceedings against Liberman and we are happy that this is the final chord.”

The prosecution had alleged that in October 2008, then-ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh gave Liberman a note with information about a state investigation into money-laundering allegations against him, and that Liberman destroyed the note, failed to report Ben-Aryeh and then helped him procure promotions in the Foreign Service. According to the prosecution, Liberman gave instructions to then-deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon saying that Ben-Aryeh was his preferred candidate for ambassador to Latvia.

But in a 115-page opinion, Judges Hagit Mack-Kalmanovitz, Yitzhak Shimoni and Eitan Kornhauser ruled that Ben-Aryeh had been solely responsible for initiating the incident, and that Liberman did not know the source of the note was a Justice Ministry investigation against him.

While the prosecution and the defense debated whether Liberman and Ben-Aryeh spoke at all, the court said the state had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt from Ben-Aryeh’s statements that he had told Liberman that the investigation originated from the Justice Ministry as opposed to from Belarus or from a media source.

The court also said there was no proof that Liberman tried to inappropriately help Ben-Aryeh to obtain the post as ambassador to Latvia, and that Ben-Aryeh was qualified to hold the post in any event.

The court did find that Liberman “acted inappropriately,” but added that “the gravity of the conflict of interest” did not merit a conviction.

The judges rejected testimony that Ayalon brought against Liberman, and said that it was contradicted by other top Foreign Ministry officials. They questioned Ayalon’s abrupt shift from defending Liberman’s innocence in an interview with Channel 1 while still working for Liberman, to proclaiming his guilt shortly after Liberman booted him out of Yisrael Beytenu.
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