Ch. 1 anchor blasts Ayalon's story in Liberman trial

Ayalon tells the 'Post' he is willing to take polygraph but Liberman isn't, defense is wasting time on "trivial issues."

June 12, 2013 15:07
Former FM Liberman and former deputy FM Ayalon in court, May 2, 2013.

Liberman, Ayalon looking away from each other 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Channel 1 anchorwoman Geula Even blasted former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon’s version of an interview he gave regarding the Belarusan Ambassador Affair, during the second day of the defense hearing in the trial of former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman.

Even, who identified herself as “Geula Even Sa’ar,” after recently marrying Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, told the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court in testimony Wednesday, that neither she nor her producer Yishai Cherniak had agreed before the interview to refrain from questioning Ayalon about criminal allegations against Liberman, contradicting Ayalon’s version of events.

Liberman is accused of fraud and breach of public trust in the case, referred to as the Belarusan Ambassador Affair, but has denied all of the charges.

Responding to Wednesday’s testimony, Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post that the defense was wasting its time on “trivial issues,” and ignoring that the case is not about whether Ayalon or Even violated the law, but whether Liberman did.

Ayalon also challenged Liberman on the central issue of who between the two of them is telling the truth in the trial, stating “I am ready to take a polygraph, yet Liberman’s lawyers have still not asked me to. Why isn’t Liberman ready to take a polygraph?” The mutually contradictory version of events are important because, in the interview given shortly before Liberman dropped Ayalon from Yisrael Beytenu, Ayalon basically exonerated Liberman from any wrongdoing.

Yet in court in May, Ayalon was the prosecution’s star witness, testifying that Liberman was intimately involved behindthe- scenes in getting Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh appointed ambassador to Latvia.

The two central allegations against Liberman in the case are that he failed to report Ben-Aryeh, who illegally showed him classified material in an investigation against him, and that subsequently he actively promoted Ben-Aryeh to the Latvia position as “payment.”

In the Channel 1 interview, Ayalon said that he did not recall Liberman instructing him to appoint Ben-Aryeh as ambassador to Latvia and implied that this was not the way the Foreign Ministry operated.

Instead, he told Even, people should review the Foreign Ministry appointment committee protocols, which would show unanimous support for Ben-Aryeh and no irregularities.

During Ayalon’s testimony against Liberman last month, the interview he gave on Channel 1 in which he said Liberman had nothing to do with Ben-Aryeh’s appointment was played for him.

Confronted with his statements in the interview, Ayalon said that he could not possibly “incriminate the sitting foreign minister of Israel” in a public interview, with all of the consequences that would have, including for the state.

Ayalon clarified that essentially, while still a high-ranking government officer, he felt obligated to cover for Liberman, while making it clear that in court and before police he was “in a legal forum” and was “obligated to tell the truth.”

Accused of testifying against Liberman in retaliation for the Yisrael Beytenu chairman throwing him out of his job and the party, the former deputy minister said his firing had no impact on his testimony against his former boss.

He also added that he had a prior agreement with Channel 1 not to ask about the Liberman case.

Even said that not only was there no such agreement, but that she would never make such an agreement for an interview.

Even went so far as to say that “even if [Syrian President] Bashar Assad” asked for an interview with conditions of questions not being asked on certain topics, she would say no.

Cherniak backed Even’s version of events, which was important as Ayalon said that the agreement was actually reached with the producer.

However, on cross-examination, Cherniak admitted to the prosecution that he “did not specifically remember” the conversation with Ayalon or his spokespeople.

Cherniak then tried to qualify this statement by adding that if such a request had been made, he would have rejected it as a matter of policy.

Questioned by the Post about the contradictions between his version of events versus Even and Cherniak’s, Ayalon distinguished between each person involved. He noted that the actual agreement was between his spokeswoman Ofra Eliyahu – now spokeswoman to President Shimon Peres – and Cherniak.

In that vain, he said he would “give Even the benefit of the doubt,” and added that while it was possible that Eliyahu and Cherniak had a misunderstanding, that Eliyahu “stood by her version of events” and even had attacked Channel 1 on Facebook back in December over how the interview was conducted.

Ayalon added that he had confronted Eliyahu to explain why he was asked questions about the Liberman case, and that she apologized, but said Channel 1 had broken an agreement.

The prosecution submitted an affidavit from Eliyahu on the issue to the court on Wednesday.

Ayalon also returned to his central point that what was said in the interview was unimportant as it was not connected to the central legal allegations against Liberman.

When Cherniak was pressed by the prosecution about not being truthful, and that media interviewers regularly agreed to strings-attached for certain interviews, he said that he could only testify about the rules that he lived by, not others.

According to the two Channel 1 employees, a few weeks after the interview with Ayalon, Eliyahu called and confronted Cherniak about the agreement in question.

Cherniak claimed he believed the spokesman was trying to record the conversation.

Earlier Wednesday, deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry Pini Avivi also testified in Liberman’s defense, stating that Ben-Aryeh was uniquely qualified for the job of ambassador to Latvia because of his knowledge of Russian language and culture.

Avivi, promoted to his current position by Liberman and considered close to the Yisrael Beytenu leader, deflected criticism of Ben-Aryeh as Belarusan ambassador.

Whereas former head inspector of the Foreign Ministry Viktor Harel had accused Ben- Aryeh of allowing his local employees in Belarus to fall into poverty, rendering him unfit for being ambassador to Latvia, Avivi said that this issue “is not the job of an ambassador.”

Pressed whether he was testifying under influence or fear of Liberman, Avivi said that he retires in February 2014 no matter what, so that he, objectively, does not need to fear anyone.

He added that the possibility of Liberman returning to be foreign minister was not having any impact on current ministry officials who were testifying in the case.

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