In a dramatic turn of events that may swing momentum in the direction of Yisrael
Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman in the fraud case against him, Ze’ev Ben Aryeh,
the man who got Liberman into legal trouble, shocked the state on Thursday by
“going hostile” and trying to torpedo its case.
Slamming his fist on the
witness stand in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, Ben-Aryeh retracted all
earlier damning statements he made to police about having talked to Liberman for
three to five minutes about classified information he illegally gave Liberman on
a piece of paper, exclaiming instead, “I did not say a single word to him!”
Liberman has denied all charges against him.
Ben-Aryeh is the former
envoy to which the term “Belarusan Ambassador Affair” refers.
In 2008, in
his capacity as ambassador to Belarus, Ben- Aryeh received a classified legal
assistance request from the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem asking the Belarusan
authorities to assist in investigating criminal money-laundering allegations
against Liberman involving banks and persons in Belarus.
One of the three
judges now hearing the Liberman case convicted Ben-Aryeh in October 2012,
sentencing him to four months of community service for having illegally passed
details of the secret documents to Liberman about the ongoing money-laundering
investigation during a visit by Liberman to Belarus in 2008.
initial testimony to police, Ben-Aryeh testified that he not only handed
Liberman a piece of paper, illegally revealing information from the
investigation against Liberman, but also spent three to five minutes explaining
to him some of the details of the investigation.
This has been part of
the heart of the state’s case, as it would shatter Liberman’s story that all he
did was take a momentary look at the piece of paper Ben-Aryeh gave him and then
throw it away without having really gleaned anything from it.
strategy has been to admit to the underlying facts of the case against him, that
he did illegally receive a piece of paper from Ben-Aryeh regarding the
investigation against him, but to play down the event’s significance by saying
that Ben-Aryeh sprang the issue on him without warning, and that, in any event,
he learned nothing about the investigation against him from the
This story would be extremely difficult to uphold if the state
could prove that Ben-Aryeh and Liberman discussed the investigation against
Liberman for any amount of time, even for only three to five minutes.
state had hoped that Ben-Aryeh would confirm his earlier allegations against
Liberman, and called him as one of its main supporting witnesses, but instead he
shocked the state by turning “hostile” to its case and resisting any cooperation
with the state’s questioning from the moment he got on the witness
Asked about basic information that Ben-Aryeh later appeared freely
ready to reveal and confirm to Liberman’s defense team under crossexamination,
he regularly answered “I don’t remember” when asked by the state.”
end, the state’s lawyers grew so frustrated that rather than continuing to fight
back and forth with Ben-Aryeh to get him to admit to statements he had made to
police, it asked and received permission from the court to simply submit his
statements to police into evidence in their entirety.
Then came the real
fireworks: an all-out attack by Ben-Aryeh and by Liberman’s defense team on
cross-examination on any earlier statements he made to police that in any way
contradicted Liberman’s story.
Ben-Aryeh appeared to offer several close
alternative explanations for his final version of events to the court, but the
bottom line was that all he had done was give Liberman a piece of paper, which
Liberman threw out.
More specifically, Ben-Aryeh said it made no sense
that he would have said anything orally to Liberman about the information on the
paper as he was anxious about wiretapping by the Belarusan
Not only did they not talk about the investigation, but
Ben-Aryeh said that his earlier statements to police were wrong, and that he had
only said them because “I was under pressure and being threatened” by the case
The state did not let him off the hook easy with this 360
degree turn-around, questioning him fiercely in a post-crossexamination
requestioning, noting that he had corrected parts of the transcript of his
statements (reflected by his initialing changes to certain portions) and signed
at the bottom of the whole transcript that everything was
Ben-Aryeh tried to argue that already in later statements to
police he had tried to “correct” his earlier “misstatements” about having spoken
to Liberman, and that he was “not correcting himself from the first time today
before the court.”
The second witness to testify was former Foreign
Ministry head inspector Victor Harel.
Harel was much more cooperative
with the state and helped it lay out a separate part of its case.
indictment against Liberman not only accuses him of having been illegally given
and failed to report being given classified information in an investigation
against him, it also accuses him of actively pushing for Ben-Aryeh’s promotion
to the position of ambassador to Latvia as subsequent “payment” for Ben- Aryeh
illegally giving Liberman the information.
Part of the state’s argument
that Liberman pressed actively for Ben-Aryeh’s appointment is the contention
that Ben-Aryeh was totally unqualified for the position and could not have been
on track to get it without Liberman’s intervention.
Harel testified that
he inspected Ben-Aryeh’s running of the Israeli Embassy in Minsk and found that
Ben-Aryeh was “totally unfit for managing an embassy.”
Harel added that
this opinion of Ben-Aryeh was common in the Foreign Ministry and that Harel had
even spoken about his criticism of Ben-Aryeh to other ministry officials with
power over deciding which ministry officials got ambassadorships.
trial continues on Tuesday when the state will call other top Foreign Ministry
officials to support its case, followed by former deputy foreign minister Danny
Ayalon next Thursday.