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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Avigdor Lieberman has a good conspiracy tale for anyone willing to listen.
The mainstream establishment, terrified by his right-wing extremism and promising position in the polls, has mobilized the law enforcement branch of the state to come down hard on him, just days before the general elections, in a sinister bid to sabotage his candidacy.
But Lieberman's own lawyer, Yaron Koteli, disassociates himself completely from his client's theories, and brings up a different factor which may be linked to the timing of the arrests - a High Court deadline set for February 9, one day before the balloting.
On that day, the High Court is scheduled to hear a response from the state to a petition submitted by Koteli in July 2008, in which Koteli demanded that police either close their case against Lieberman for good, or complete it and hand it off to prosecutors for trial.
As February 9 looms, it appears police have opted for the second option.
"I never claimed the timing [of the arrests] was political," Koteli told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
But, he added, "the timing of the investigation today - two weeks before the High Court session on my petition - raises questions."
Koteli became Lieberman's attorney in May 2007, after Yoav Mani, the Israel Beitenu chairman's former attorney, himself became a suspect for attempting to deny detectives access to documents seized during a raid of his office in April of that year.
Mani's actions ultimately led to his arrest and remand in custody on Monday.
Koteli filed his petition because of the "unbearably long investigation" into Lieberman, he said.
"The suspicions being aired in the media [against Lieberman regarding the Cypriot bank accounts registered to his daughter's name, which police suspect were used for money laundering and fraud] were already heard in April 2006 and April 2007," Koteli added.
One senior former National Fraud Unit investigator believes Lieberman is clearly guilty, and echoes Koteli's view that political calculations are wholly unrelated to the timing of the recent arrests.
Dep-Cmdr. (ret.) Boaz Guttman, who investigated Lieberman in 1998 over suspicions of forging government protocols [Guttman closed the case for lack of any criminal wrongdoing], is personally acquainted with key National Fraud Unit detectives leading the current investigation.
Guttman challenges any notion that the investigators could be swayed by political affiliations.
"It's nonsense to suggest that the elections have something to do with the arrests," Guttman said. "The person heading this investigation within the National Fraud Unit, the Head of the Economic Crimes Department, Dep.-Cmdr. Yoram Na'aman, is an excellent investigator. I took him into my own department and gave him excellent recommendations on his professionalism.
"He has no political aspirations. I doubt if he even voted in the last elections," Guttman said.
Similarly, Guttman is happy to vouch for the professionalism of Ch.-Supt. Assaf Velpish, who heads the investigation team. "Velpish knows Lieberman and the Cypriot bank accounts well. These accounts held millions of shekels under the name of Lieberman's 21-year-old daughter. He knows all of Lieberman's tricks," Guttman said.
"Without naming names, I can say that a female National Fraud Unit investigator who voted for Kadima, and who will vote for Kadima, was involved in the Olmert investigation. These officers are the elite, the cream of the crop. They do their job according to their professional conscience," he said.
"In the 21 years that I've been in the National Fraud Unit, we never stopped an investigation because of elections. The unit does not belong to the Right or the Left. The investigations are managed according to their urgency and the evidence-collection process," he added.
Guttman pointed to a decision by the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on Sunday to remand Mani and two associates.
"The courts also know who Lieberman is, and they do not belong to any political party. When a judge examines the case material and decides that the lawyer [Mani] needs to be in custody, it shows that the suspicions are founded," said Guttman.
The fact that Sunday's custody rulings were not challenged by the suspects' lawyers also testifies to the strength of the police case, Guttman argued.
Lieberman's accusations are "characteristic of the manipulations of white-collar criminals. They do all they can to confuse the public over what they are suspected of doing," Guttman said. "Lieberman did not invent this," Guttman added. "Before him, [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert, former Shas leader Aryeh] Deri, [formally imprisoned Shas politician] Yair Levi all did it."
The former investigator said the very location of the bank accounts in question - Cyprus - gave away the game.
"If all was fine and proper with the accounts, why were they not in Bank Discount in Jerusalem? What were they doing in Cyprus?" he asked.
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