Liberman to testify in ambassador fraud case

After 17 years of investigations and 6 months of buildup, court will hear the testimony of former foreign minister and Yisrael Beytenu leader, who is accused of fraud and breach of public trust, and has denied all charges.

May 29, 2013 06:15
2 minute read.
Former FM Liberman and former deputy FM Ayalon in court, May 2, 2013.

Liberman, Ayalon looking away from each other 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

After 17 years of investigations and six months of buildup in the Belarus Ambassador Affair case filed against him, the moment has arrived: Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman will testify on Wednesday in one of the most dramatic legal-political events in the country’s history.

Liberman, still arguably the second most powerful man in the country and a heartbeat away from the position of prime minister if found innocent, will fight for his political future in his first and possibly only day of testimony.

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He is accused of fraud and breach of public trust and has denied all of the charges.

Liberman – unlike other, more careful politicians who have been on trial – demonstrated in his police interrogations that he was ready to tear into his questioners. If the prosecution lawyers in the case have been somewhat timid in questioning top bureaucrats of the Foreign Ministry, they will be facing a whole new challenge with the former foreign minister.

The convoluted story has become more familiar to the public recently, after major media events such as the testimony of star prosecution witness, former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon.

Former Belarus ambassador Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh has been convicted of illegally giving Liberman classified investigative material regarding an earlier money-laundering case against Liberman.

Liberman admitted he received the material but there, the narratives of the prosecution and Liberman split.

Based on Ben-Aryeh’s statements to police, the prosecution said that Liberman spent at least three to five minutes discussing the information with him. It also says, based on testimony from Ayalon and former Foreign Ministry head inspector Viktor Harel, that Liberman actively pushed for Ben-Aryeh’s promotion to the position of Latvian ambassador as subsequent “payment” for Ben-Aryeh’s tipping him off.

Liberman says he had nothing to do with Ben-Aryeh’s promotion and that he deserved the new position based on his record. Two top Foreign Ministry witnesses have confirmed Liberman’s story, leaving contradictory narratives between four senior Foreign Ministry officials.

Ayalon says he met with Liberman to discuss Ben-Aryeh’s getting promoted multiple times, while Liberman says Ayalon made up the meetings.

Things are more complicated since Liberman tossed Ayalon out of the Foreign Ministry and his Yisrael Beytenu Party with no particular explanation last year, only to face his former deputy weeks later as his chief accuser.

With several contradictory high-ranking witnesses, there is high pressure on the prosecution to get a “knock out.”

Catching Liberman in possible inaccuracies or making him explain some of his own potentially contradictory answers to police could put the prosecution over the top, lead to a conviction and end his career. That outcome could also destroy the future of Yisrael Beytenu and completely upend the dynamics of the coalition and of the next election.

But if Liberman has his way with the prosecution like he did with police, the prosecutors will come out more bruised and censored than he will. If Liberman is acquitted, he will presumably return to being foreign minister and Netanyahu’s second-in-command and potential successor.

Losing the Liberman case after essentially losing the Jerusalem corruption case against former prime minister Ehud Olmert would be devastating to the prosecution and would be the first massive blemish on Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein’s record, who was not involved in the Olmert case.

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