During his corruption trial Wednesday Avigdor Liberman told the court that even
if he had known the consequences of his decision, he’s not sure he would have
reported thenambassador Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh for showing him classified details of a
police investigation into the former foreign minister’s actions.
testimony was billed as one of the most dramatic legal-political events in the
state’s history, with the outcome of the case having the potential to alter the
entire political playing field.
Liberman is accused of pushing for the
promotion of Ben-Aryeh as ambassador to Latvia following a meeting between the
two men in Minsk in 2008, during which Ben-Aryeh, then ambassador to Belarus,
gave Liberman information about an official Israeli request of Belarusin
authorities to assist in an investigation into the Yisrael Beytenu chairman for
possibly laundering millions of dollars.
“With everything I know today, I
don’t know if I would have done anything different” and reported Ben-Aryeh,
Liberman said in his testimony at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.
lawyer, Jacob Weinroth, in his opening remarks, presented the issue as a moral dilemma about whether it would have been moral or fair to have reported
Ben-Aryeh and ruined his career after decades of devoted and talented work for
the state, simply because of one brief moment of weakness and misplaced
loyalties that hurt no one.
Weinroth added that at most, Liberman’s
failure to report Ben- Aryeh was an ethical failing, but not a
Liberman denies all charges of fraud and breach of public
Taking the stand, he said that as soon as he saw a paper from
Ben-Aryeh with the words “legal investigation, Israel, Belarus” he threw it out
in the bathroom, telling him, “This is foolishness.”
Liberman is accused
of actively pushing for Ben-Aryeh’s promotion to the position of ambassador to
Latvia as subsequent “payment” for Ben-Aryeh’s tipoff.
Liberman says he
had nothing to do with Ben-Aryeh’s promotion, and that he deserved the post
solely based on his merits.
During his testimony, Liberman called
Ben-Aryeh a talented ambassador who knew the language and culture of the former
USSR better than almost anyone in the foreign service.
He also denied
ever having directed his top aide Sharon Shalom to promote Ben-Aryeh’s candidacy
in Liberman’s name, as alleged by the prosecution.
The former foreign
minister added that he hadn’t known Ben-Aryeh was giving him the document in his
capacity as ambassador, and placed no significance whatsoever on the
“The whole incident was just a few minutes,” and Ben-Aryeh
did not explain anything to him about the information, he told the
Turning to the subject of Danny Ayalon, Liberman said his former
deputy was never a closely trusted person and that he never ordered or pressured
him about any appointment.
Earlier in May, during his testimony in the
trial, Ayalon said that Liberman had special meetings with him alone, during
which he said that he wanted Ben-Aryeh appointed as ambassador to
Contradicting Ayalon’s accusations, Liberman stated that he never
met exclusively with Ayalon to discuss appointments, neither about Ben-Aryeh nor
about any other diplomats. He said that both the Foreign Ministry
director-general and the head of human resources were always present at such
Slamming Ayalon’s version of events in more general terms,
Liberman said that “sometimes you don’t know if he lives on a different
Ayalon rejected Liberman’s contentions, telling The Jerusalem
Post that his former boss’s testimony was “replete with
He denied that he had not been a close and trusted
confidant of the former foreign minister.
“I was the one he appointed to
lead the sensitive dialogue between Israel and the US. He also appointed me to
lead the sensitive dialogue with the Vatican,” Ayalon told the Post. “In order
to save his skin, he is making up fantasies.”
Ayalon expressed confidence
that he would be revealed as having spoken the truth as the trial against
“There are good judges in Jerusalem and they will
judge who is speaking the truth.”
He added that for Liberman, it is “a
losing proposition to put the focus on me instead of explaining his
During a cross-examination, the prosecution’s Michal Sabel
Daral tried to trip Liberman up on his version of events. She said he could not
claim that the incident with Ben-Aryeh was unimportant and banal if he flushed
the paper that Ben-Aryeh gave him down the toilet.
According to the
prosecution, Liberman’s actions were those of someone trying to cover something
up from the authorities.
Daral suggested that the tiny piece of paper
that Liberman claims he was given was too small to have the words “State of
Israel, legal investigation, Belarus and Avigdor Liberman” all on the top of the
page, as Liberman claimed.
Rather, she argued, he must have been told
this information by Ben-Aryeh orally, proving that Ben-Aryeh provided more
details about the investigation of Liberman than Liberman was willing to
At that point in the testimony, the court – which had been mostly
“hands-off” in the proceedings – asked one of its only questions of the day,
inquiring if the slip of paper had been on official stationary. Liberman replied
that it had not been, and was all hand-written.
The court also asked
Liberman whether it would not have been better if he had mentioned the incident
to the Foreign Ministry Appointments Committee that initially gave Ben-Aryeh the
Latvian ambassadorship – Ben- Aryeh was later stripped of the appointment when
he came under investigation – at one of several opportunities.
replied, “Maybe. This is wisdom after the fact. At least in my own terms, and my
code of ethics, I acted reasonably.”
On a related line of questioning,
Liberman added he did not want “to bury him [Ben-Aryeh].”
Asked how his
version of events could be so different from what Ben-Aryeh told police – that
Liberman carefully looked at and appeared to absorb the illegally provided
information – he replied, “I once saw someone on television admitting to having
robbed 10 banks which he simply did not rob,” implying that Ben-Aryeh had
irrationally admitted to untrue events that were worse than what had actually
“I can’t explain Ben-Aryeh, I can only talk about the facts,”
The former foreign minister was also questioned over his
previous statements that after the incident he mentioned to current Deputy
Interior Minister Faina Kirschenbaum that Ben- Aryeh was an “idiot” who would
“get him in trouble.”
Pressed to explain how he could claim Ben-Aryeh was
so talented and fit for the role of ambassador to Latvia while also calling him
an idiot, he said that he had once seen one of the world’s best soccer players
miss an easy shot on goal and called the player an idiot, not understanding how
he could miss the shot.
So what he meant was “how could such an
intelligent person [like Ben-Aryeh] do such a foolish thing,” and that he had
not meant idiot in the regular sense of the word.
responded to Liberman, arguing that his concern about Ben-Aryeh getting him in
trouble showed that the incident was more worrisome and significant to Liberman
than he had let on.
The court pressed Liberman as to why he would be so
worried if only he and Ben-Aryeh knew about the incident and could agree to
cover it up easily.
Liberman responded by angrily lashing out against the
years of leaks and investigations against him, which had in turn impacted how he
reacted to the incident, but emphasized that he still had viewed the incident in
Minsk as just as foolish as the investigations against him.
prosecution argued that the first time Liberman saw Ben-Aryeh after the
incident, his instinct was to immediately try to promote him for his loyalty in
the incident, Liberman responded that if he had really wanted to help Ben-Aryeh,
he could have easily gotten him promoted to the much more prominent position of
ambassador to Russia.