Liberman, Ayalon looking away from each other 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
After 17 years of investigations and six months of buildup in the Belarus
Ambassador Affair case filed against him, the moment has arrived: Former foreign
minister Avigdor Liberman will testify on Wednesday in one of the most dramatic
legal-political events in the country’s history.
Liberman, still arguably
the second most powerful man in the country and a heartbeat away from the
position of prime minister if found innocent, will fight for his political
future in his first and possibly only day of testimony.
He is accused of
fraud and breach of public trust and has denied all of the
Liberman – unlike other, more careful politicians who have been
on trial – demonstrated in his police interrogations that he was ready to tear
into his questioners. If the prosecution lawyers in the case have been somewhat
timid in questioning top bureaucrats of the Foreign Ministry, they will be
facing a whole new challenge with the former foreign minister.
convoluted story has become more familiar to the public recently, after major media events such as the testimony of star prosecution witness
, former deputy
foreign minister Danny Ayalon.
Former Belarus ambassador Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh
has been convicted of illegally giving Liberman classified investigative
material regarding an earlier money-laundering case against
Liberman admitted he received the material but there, the
narratives of the prosecution and Liberman split.
Based on Ben-Aryeh’s
statements to police, the prosecution said that Liberman spent at least three to
five minutes discussing the information with him. It also says, based on
testimony from Ayalon and former Foreign Ministry head inspector Viktor Harel,
that Liberman actively pushed for Ben-Aryeh’s promotion to the position of
Latvian ambassador as subsequent “payment” for Ben-Aryeh’s tipping him
Liberman says he had nothing to do with Ben-Aryeh’s promotion and
that he deserved the new position based on his record. Two top Foreign Ministry
witnesses have confirmed Liberman’s story, leaving contradictory narratives
between four senior Foreign Ministry officials.
Ayalon says he met with
Liberman to discuss Ben-Aryeh’s getting promoted multiple times, while Liberman
says Ayalon made up the meetings.
Things are more complicated since
Liberman tossed Ayalon out of the Foreign Ministry and his Yisrael Beytenu Party
with no particular explanation last year, only to face his former deputy weeks
later as his chief accuser.
With several contradictory high-ranking
witnesses, there is high pressure on the prosecution to get a “knock
Catching Liberman in possible inaccuracies or making him explain
some of his own potentially contradictory answers to police could put the
prosecution over the top, lead to a conviction and end his career. That outcome
could also destroy the future of Yisrael Beytenu and completely upend the
dynamics of the coalition and of the next election.
But if Liberman has
his way with the prosecution like he did with police, the prosecutors will come
out more bruised and censored than he will. If Liberman is acquitted, he will
presumably return to being foreign minister and Netanyahu’s second-in-command
and potential successor.
Losing the Liberman case after essentially
losing the Jerusalem corruption case against former prime minister Ehud Olmert
would be devastating to the prosecution and would be the first massive blemish
on Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein’s record, who was not involved in the