Liberman: Even today, I might have done the same

Court hears testimony of former FM, who is accused of fraud and breach of public trust, and has denied all charges.

May 29, 2013 14:23
Avigdor Liberman in court May 29, 2013.

Liberman trial May 29, 2013 370. (photo credit: Pool/Maariv)

During his corruption trial Wednesday Avigdor Liberman told the court that even if he had known the consequences of his decision, he’s not sure he would have reported thenambassador Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh for showing him classified details of a police investigation into the former foreign minister’s actions.

His testimony was billed as one of the most dramatic legal-political events in the state’s history, with the outcome of the case having the potential to alter the entire political playing field.

Liberman is accused of pushing for the promotion of Ben-Aryeh as ambassador to Latvia following a meeting between the two men in Minsk in 2008, during which Ben-Aryeh, then ambassador to Belarus, gave Liberman information about an official Israeli request of Belarusin authorities to assist in an investigation into the Yisrael Beytenu chairman for possibly laundering millions of dollars.

“With everything I know today, I don’t know if I would have done anything different” and reported Ben-Aryeh, Liberman said in his testimony at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.

His lawyer, Jacob Weinroth, in his opening remarks, presented the issue as a moral dilemma about whether it would have been moral or fair to have reported Ben-Aryeh and ruined his career after decades of devoted and talented work for the state, simply because of one brief moment of weakness and misplaced loyalties that hurt no one.

Weinroth added that at most, Liberman’s failure to report Ben- Aryeh was an ethical failing, but not a crime.

Liberman denies all charges of fraud and breach of public trust.

Taking the stand, he said that as soon as he saw a paper from Ben-Aryeh with the words “legal investigation, Israel, Belarus” he threw it out in the bathroom, telling him, “This is foolishness.”

Liberman is accused of actively pushing for Ben-Aryeh’s promotion to the position of ambassador to Latvia as subsequent “payment” for Ben-Aryeh’s tipoff.

Liberman says he had nothing to do with Ben-Aryeh’s promotion, and that he deserved the post solely based on his merits.

During his testimony, Liberman called Ben-Aryeh a talented ambassador who knew the language and culture of the former USSR better than almost anyone in the foreign service.

He also denied ever having directed his top aide Sharon Shalom to promote Ben-Aryeh’s candidacy in Liberman’s name, as alleged by the prosecution.

The former foreign minister added that he hadn’t known Ben-Aryeh was giving him the document in his capacity as ambassador, and placed no significance whatsoever on the information.

“The whole incident was just a few minutes,” and Ben-Aryeh did not explain anything to him about the information, he told the court.

Turning to the subject of Danny Ayalon, Liberman said his former deputy was never a closely trusted person and that he never ordered or pressured him about any appointment.

Earlier in May, during his testimony in the trial, Ayalon said that Liberman had special meetings with him alone, during which he said that he wanted Ben-Aryeh appointed as ambassador to Latvia.

Contradicting Ayalon’s accusations, Liberman stated that he never met exclusively with Ayalon to discuss appointments, neither about Ben-Aryeh nor about any other diplomats. He said that both the Foreign Ministry director-general and the head of human resources were always present at such meetings.

Slamming Ayalon’s version of events in more general terms, Liberman said that “sometimes you don’t know if he lives on a different planet.”

Ayalon rejected Liberman’s contentions, telling The Jerusalem Post that his former boss’s testimony was “replete with contradictions.”

He denied that he had not been a close and trusted confidant of the former foreign minister.

“I was the one he appointed to lead the sensitive dialogue between Israel and the US. He also appointed me to lead the sensitive dialogue with the Vatican,” Ayalon told the Post. “In order to save his skin, he is making up fantasies.”

Ayalon expressed confidence that he would be revealed as having spoken the truth as the trial against Liberman continues.

“There are good judges in Jerusalem and they will judge who is speaking the truth.”

He added that for Liberman, it is “a losing proposition to put the focus on me instead of explaining his wrongdoings.”

During a cross-examination, the prosecution’s Michal Sabel Daral tried to trip Liberman up on his version of events. She said he could not claim that the incident with Ben-Aryeh was unimportant and banal if he flushed the paper that Ben-Aryeh gave him down the toilet.

According to the prosecution, Liberman’s actions were those of someone trying to cover something up from the authorities.

Daral suggested that the tiny piece of paper that Liberman claims he was given was too small to have the words “State of Israel, legal investigation, Belarus and Avigdor Liberman” all on the top of the page, as Liberman claimed.

Rather, she argued, he must have been told this information by Ben-Aryeh orally, proving that Ben-Aryeh provided more details about the investigation of Liberman than Liberman was willing to admit.

At that point in the testimony, the court – which had been mostly “hands-off” in the proceedings – asked one of its only questions of the day, inquiring if the slip of paper had been on official stationary. Liberman replied that it had not been, and was all hand-written.

The court also asked Liberman whether it would not have been better if he had mentioned the incident to the Foreign Ministry Appointments Committee that initially gave Ben-Aryeh the Latvian ambassadorship – Ben- Aryeh was later stripped of the appointment when he came under investigation – at one of several opportunities.

Liberman replied, “Maybe. This is wisdom after the fact. At least in my own terms, and my code of ethics, I acted reasonably.”

On a related line of questioning, Liberman added he did not want “to bury him [Ben-Aryeh].”

Asked how his version of events could be so different from what Ben-Aryeh told police – that Liberman carefully looked at and appeared to absorb the illegally provided information – he replied, “I once saw someone on television admitting to having robbed 10 banks which he simply did not rob,” implying that Ben-Aryeh had irrationally admitted to untrue events that were worse than what had actually happened.

“I can’t explain Ben-Aryeh, I can only talk about the facts,” Liberman said.

The former foreign minister was also questioned over his previous statements that after the incident he mentioned to current Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirschenbaum that Ben- Aryeh was an “idiot” who would “get him in trouble.”

Pressed to explain how he could claim Ben-Aryeh was so talented and fit for the role of ambassador to Latvia while also calling him an idiot, he said that he had once seen one of the world’s best soccer players miss an easy shot on goal and called the player an idiot, not understanding how he could miss the shot.

So what he meant was “how could such an intelligent person [like Ben-Aryeh] do such a foolish thing,” and that he had not meant idiot in the regular sense of the word.

The prosecution responded to Liberman, arguing that his concern about Ben-Aryeh getting him in trouble showed that the incident was more worrisome and significant to Liberman than he had let on.

The court pressed Liberman as to why he would be so worried if only he and Ben-Aryeh knew about the incident and could agree to cover it up easily.

Liberman responded by angrily lashing out against the years of leaks and investigations against him, which had in turn impacted how he reacted to the incident, but emphasized that he still had viewed the incident in Minsk as just as foolish as the investigations against him.

When the prosecution argued that the first time Liberman saw Ben-Aryeh after the incident, his instinct was to immediately try to promote him for his loyalty in the incident, Liberman responded that if he had really wanted to help Ben-Aryeh, he could have easily gotten him promoted to the much more prominent position of ambassador to Russia.

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