Analysis: Foreshadowing things to come?

The fate of Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar could impact Liberman’s political future.

May 28, 2013 01:48
2 minute read.
Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post

Avigdor Liberman 370. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Could Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein’s position on the fate of Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar impact the future of Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman? Weinstein told the High Court of Justice on Sunday that legally Bar must be removed from office as mayor on the basis of the indictment against him for bribery, fraud and other crimes while in office.

At first glance, the two cases could not be more different.

Liberman was foreign minister, elected on a party slate and is accused of less serious charges that do not include formal bribery.

In contrast, Bar was a local official, elected directly by the public and was accused of much more serious charges centering on bribery.

Also, Liberman was more proactive than Bar, resigning as foreign minister within days of being indicted, eliminating the need for any petition to the High Court to remove him, and the question at hand is not resignation, but whether he will be convicted.

Yet Weinstein’s reasoning, if accepted by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court presiding over Liberman’s case, could lead to his downfall.

While Weinstein made many points, the bottom line was that any crime committed in an official’s public capacity and through use of their public powers should serve as a multiplying factor to the severity of the crime.

In Bar’s case, this meant that he is obligated to resign after merely being indicted and not yet convicted, despite the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”

However, in the case of the former foreign minister, this could mean a finding of moral turpitude, which would blacklist Liberman from politics for seven years, even if he is convicted on charges that are relatively minor in a general criminal sense.

In the Belarus Ambassador Affair, Liberman, who has denied all charges, is accused of failing to report receiving an illegal tip from then-ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh and of subsequently helping Ben-Aryeh gain a new ambassadorship.

Many asked, who cares? Liberman is not accused of soliciting illegal help from Ben-Aryeh; even the prosecution says that Ben-Aryeh took Liberman by surprise.

Regardless of whether they say Liberman was involved in the promotion or not, all Foreign Ministry witnesses in the case, including those against Liberman, have said that there is nothing odd about a foreign minister being involved in an ambassadorial appointment.

Moreover, Ben-Aryeh was caught before he accepted the appointment, so, many say, no damage was done.

But Weinstein’s statement in the Bar case indicates that such an analysis misses the real point.

The real point, according to the attorney-general, would be that Liberman used his power as foreign minister to reward someone for an illegal act, and that such conduct should automatically eliminate an individual from holding any public position, from foreign minister down to mayor.

Obviously, if Liberman is acquitted, he is home free.

But if he is convicted even merely for breach of public trust, the view that his specific alleged criminal activities were inextricably linked with his abuse of public power could end his storied career.

In addition, this view would represent another unsaid factor for why Weinstein brought the Belarus Ambassador Affair to trial, as opposed to the money-laundering case. The money-laundering case, while involving far more serious charges, was against Liberman the private citizen, whereas Weinstein may have liked his chances better targeting Liberman for his alleged conduct as a public servant.

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