Analysis: Brought down by an afterthought

The Ministry of Justice initially did not pay enough attention to Belarus affair.

By
December 27, 2012 01:46
3 minute read.
Liberman at Knesset

Liberman370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman was toppled as foreign minister by an afterthought.

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.

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Ultimately, he 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 case.”

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 Latvia.

Liberman wasn’t the only one caught unprepared.

As made 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.

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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 coming days.”

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.

But 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.

Everyone, 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 case.

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.

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