Analysis: Brought down by an afterthought
The Ministry of Justice initially did not pay enough attention to Belarus affair.
Liberman at Knesset Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman was toppled as foreign minister by
For years, he had battled to protect his name legally
and publicly, denying allegations that he conducted a money-laundering and fraud
scheme taking in millions of dollars from foreigners.
succeeded on that front, with Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein deciding two
weeks ago to reverse course and close what had been known as the “main
But he did not see the other full-speed train bearing down on him,
the Belarus Ambassador Affair, in which he also denies the allegations, which
led to his resignation as foreign minister.
The affair initially involved
accusations that Liberman was illegally leaked investigative material against
him regarding the main case by then-ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh, after
which he allegedly withheld revelation of Ben-Aryeh’s illegal conduct from a
Foreign Ministry appointments panel to help him get promoted to be ambassador to
Liberman wasn’t the only one caught unprepared.
clear over the past week and a half, Weinstein, the prosecution and the police
also had not done their homework on the Belarus Ambassador Affair, failing to
question any of the Foreign Ministry panel members about Liberman’s conduct,
until Channel 10 news exposed their failure the night before they planned to
file the indictment.
In an unprecedented, unscripted and bizarre morning
last week, the Ministry of Justice spokesman around 9 o’clock. confirmed that
the indictment would be filed momentarily, only to say around 11 that the
indictment had been delayed for unexplained reasons, but would be “filed in the
The coming days came and went. It appears that even after
the initial Channel 10 report, high-level decision-makers thought they would
push forward with the indictment without gathering further evidence.
in the end, the Channel 10 report changed the course of the case, effectively
compelling the prosecution to order the police to question the panel members
about whether Liberman did not just withhold information, but actively tampered
with the process, pushing for Ben-Aryeh’s promotion. The result could be a much
more serious count of active fraud.
How could this happen? It appears
that originally, Weinstein decided to file charges regarding the affair as a
separate indictment as an almost last minute decision in order to forge a
compromise between warring factions in the prosecutor’s office.
including those who wanted to indict Liberman for the money-laundering case,
would support closing the “main case,” if Weinstein filed an indictment in the
Belarus Ambassador Affair that included not only breach of public trust, but
also a fraud count.
But Weinstein became much more doubtful about the
case after the Olmert general acquittal and problems with the key witness
against Liberman, “Daniella.”
Until then, the Belarus Ambassador Affair
was just a side-issue, spinning off of the main case. At the time it could be
summed up as follows: Maybe Liberman or one of his allies had tampered with the
investigation into the money-laundering allegations.
But no one had seen
it as more than an add-on to the main allegations, let alone as a separate
It appears that trying to make the allegations more serious, to
include fraud for withholding information from the Foreign Ministry in promoting
Ben-Aryeh, was an even later development – which is likely why the panel members
were never questioned.
In the late rush to separate out the Belarus
Ambassador Affair and add in at least a passive fraud count, the prosecution
failed to question critical witnesses.
Liberman may still get acquitted
and return to power, and he still has several other power levers. Nevertheless,
one can understand his frustration at the new delay in his case.