Analysis: Is Liberman off the hook?

Missing yet another deadline to indict the FM suggests the struggle here is about how and when to close the case.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Almost three weeks ago reports that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein would decide within two to three weeks whether to indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman or to close the case against him were rampant.
Questioned rigorously about his sources on Channel 10 News, legal affairs reporter Baruch Kra said that despite numerous false starts on the issue in the past, this time his sources were adamant that a decision was imminent.
Click for full JPost coverage
Click for full JPost coverage
Technically only the two week deadline has passed, and there are two more days to the three-week deadline.
But observers should not hold their breaths on an imminent decision, and the chance of an indictment is becoming more and more remote.
The foreign minister is under investigation for charges of fraud, breach of trust, obtaining benefits through deceit, money laundering and witness harassment.
According to a draft indictment made public more than a year ago, Liberman is suspected of receiving millions of dollars from private businesspeople through six to eight straw companies between 2001 and 2008 – while a member of Knesset and holding various cabinet positions.
As if to remind the public of Liberman’s legal issues, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court sentenced one of Liberman’s former appointees, Ze’ev Ben- Aryeh, to four months of community service for illegally sharing information about the investigation against him while serving as ambassador to Belarus.
But the fanfare behind the latest “deadline” and the fact that it has essentially passed is a further signal that this case is going nowhere.
Another possible sign that Liberman will not be indicted is Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent announcement of a unity deal with the foreign minister’s Yisrael Beytenu party.
Although it is impossible to fully dissect the motivations surrounding the unity deal, it is difficult to ignore the possibility that Netanyahu would not be going through with it if he did not have some sense from Weinstein that Liberman will not be indicted.
To join with Liberman a day or two before he gets indicted would be an incredible error by a politician known for being tactically conservative and careful.
Next was Weinstein’s memorandum sent to all government ministries shortly after the decision was announced to go to general elections.
The attorney-general specifically instructed all government ministries to hold off, if at all possible, on making any important decisions until after the next Knesset was formed.
The attorney-general’s memorandum indicated that until there is a new Knesset, the current ministers serve more of a caretaker faction and do not have the same authority during a transition period to elections.
Although this announcement was undoubtedly targeted at a number of initiatives, such as sending a shot off the bow of ministers trying to make major changes on settlement policy, one cannot ignore it in showing Weinstein’s distaste in trying to tamper with policy during the run up to elections.
The message: Some ministry workers and attorneys at the Justice Ministry may especially want to make a statement or take a shot at particular officials during election season, but Weinstein does not approve.
Getting further into speculative territory, it is possible that there are still disagreements about the case in the Justice Ministry.
It is also possible that Weinstein was getting ready to decide, but that head state attorney Moshe Lador’s decision to appeal the acquittals of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, convinced Weinstein to hold off again until the appeal is decided.
Although there is no official connection between the cases, if the Supreme Court upholds Olmert’s acquittals it can only strengthen anyone in the Justice Ministry who wants to close the Liberman file.
Conversely, if the court surprises the pundits, reverses the lower court and convicts Olmert, it can only strengthen anyone in the Justice Ministry who wants to file charges against Liberman.
But of all of the above factors, the most convincing that the case will be closed remains the delay and the newest missed “deadline.”
After years of waiting, immediately after new elections were announced would have been a high impact time to announce an indictment.
This is highlighted by the Movement for the Quality of Law in Israel’s just-filed petition to the High Court of Justice to order Weinstein to make an immediate decision on the issue.
There are winning cases that take years to assemble, but most winning cases have an obvious path to prove guilt, and most losing cases are losers because time does not clear up the evidentiary question marks.
While anything is possible, the missing of yet another deadline suggests that the struggle here is not about whether to indict, but how and when to close the case so as to reduce the public anger and internal disenchantment within the State Attorney’s Office among those who assume Liberman is guilty.