With State Attorney Moshe Lador stepping down Monday, it is important to understand how the corruption case against Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman was born if one hopes to understand whether or not the state will challenge his acquittal.
As with everything surrounding the Liberman case, there are two extremes: those who view anything as being part of a 17-year witch hunt, and those who view getting rid of him as more important than the means.
Neither group influenced the decision to indict Liberman only in the narrow, relatively inconsequential Belarus Ambassador Affair (although each might have played earlier roles in Liberman’s many legal battles), and thus, no one from these groups will influence the decision for an appeal. Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein did, though, and will have a role.
Weinstein has been portrayed as weak-kneed by Liberman detractors for closing the main, multi-million dollar money-laundering case against him, and as an ultra-Left zealot and tool for silencing Liberman by the foreign minister’s supporters.
His track record can be interpreted in many ways, but the most consistent interpretation is probably that he is a moderate, defying both extremes – one reason he is currently popular with no one.
All indications are that Weinstein filed the narrow case and closed the main case about a year ago as part of a deal with Lador. At the time, Lador had been wounded by an overall loss in the Jerusalem corruption case against former prime minister Ehud Olmert, but was still at the height of his power within the prosecutorial apparatus.
If Weinstein had a number two (which Lador effectively has been in decisions regarding ministers) who was any less gung ho, it is unclear whether he would have pushed even the narrow case. But to have denied Lador a shot at Liberman in both cases, across-the-board, could have left the attorney-general vulnerable to open revolt within the prosecution, and to overwhelming public criticism.
The compromise he likely fashioned meant that Lador publicly dissented from closing the main case, but only in a measured and respectful way.
While many outside the government called for Lador to resign for being overly aggressive in pushing the Olmert, Liberman and other cases, he is viewed by others as a prosecutor’s prosecutor who justifiably fought hard against massive and cancerous nationwide corruption.
But he is out as of Monday, and Shai Nitzan, who reportedly is more circumspect about all legal issues related to Liberman, is in as the new state attorney.
If Weinstein drops the appeal, it is rumored in the media that he will face criticism from the Economic Crimes arm of State Attorney’s Office, as well as from Lador, the two lawyers who argued the case and several others.
But he reportedly will have the full support of Nitzan (far more important in the future than any support from Lador), some other senior officials and many from the regular criminal division. So, strictly on the basis of internal prosecution politics, the attorney-general now has a much stronger hand for closing this chapter than he did a year ago.
In addition, those who had been hard-core on filing the indictment were wrong, at least so far. While many viewed the case as nothing more than borderline, the three judges who heard it declared it an overwhelming loser (even as they criticized Liberman’s ethics.) Reportedly, Weinstein believes the judges did make errors in their ruling, and that the indictment and conviction would have been justified. But appeals usually lose, and the opinion of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court made it clear that the crime of breach of public trust, which Liberman had been accused of, is poorly defined, and that any victorious appeal would essentially be widening its application to a newer situation in which someone had merely failed to report something bad about someone else, as opposed to having undertaken a clear action.
While Weinstein might end up appealing so as to double-down on his belief that the case was justified, filing an appeal at this stage would clearly be the riskier option – and he has not shown himself to be a risk-taker.
Jerusalem Post Annual Conference. Buy it now, Special offer. Come meet Israel's top leaders