Analysis: Liberman plea bargain far from sure

Likud officials say Liberman will still play central role in campaign, he has not resigned from Knesset.

Avigdor Liberman 521 ok (photo credit: Reuters)
Avigdor Liberman 521 ok
(photo credit: Reuters)
A not-so-quiet civil war exploded in the State Attorney’s Office over the cases against soon-to-be ex-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, and no one is happy with what appears to be the compromise that was struck.
Head prosecutor Moshe Lador certainly is not happy. He wanted to indict Liberman not only for fraud and breach of public trust in the smaller Belarus ambassador affair, but also in the “main” case against Liberman alleging the money-laundering of millions of shekels, fraud and other charges from 2001-2008.
How do we know? It’s no secret. Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein spends no fewer than five pages in his decision to close the case, summarizing point by point how Lador disagreed with each major fact and reason that Weinstein used as the basis for his decision.
For example, Weinstein thought the case could not overcome that the main witness against Liberman, “Daniella,” who resides in Cypress and allegedly managed much of the finances of the companies under investigation, changed her testimony against Liberman and said she did not remember anything.
Lador believed her change of heart was so non-credible that it would only enhance the credibility of her original story, which allegedly damaged Liberman significantly.
The attorney-general is not happy.
Although there will always be those who claim that he interferes too much in politics, the fact is that compared to his predecessors, most lawyers consider him to be highly cautious and passive.
Reading between the lines, he probably wanted to close the main case and only indict Liberman for breach of public trust in the second case – not fraud. In his ideal world, he probably wished he was not indicting top ministers at all and certainly not going after what some view as “minor” or “borderline” criminal cases.
Politically, he was brought aboard with the expectation that he would be less aggressive than his predecessors and avoid controversial issues unless pressed.
In terms of how he views the law, Weinstein spent his career as a defense attorney and has consistently appeared to be focused on the downside and imperfections in cases than could be exploited, as he used to do.
How was the civil war resolved? From the surprise decision to indict Liberman in the former Belarus ambassador affair – on not just breach of public trust but also on the more serious fraud charge – and from the attorney-general’s highly unusual publicizing of those who opposed him and the narrative of Lador, it appears a deal was cut.
The trade: if Lador consents to go along with Weinstein’s decision and publicly calls the closing of the main case “reasonable,” Weinstein would indict Liberman with a harsher charge in the second case and give public voice to Lador’s “principled dissent” about closing the case.
This trade is not mentioned anywhere in the 95-page report closing the main case or the short indictment filed against Liberman in the second case, and is certainly speculative.
But it is also hard to miss. Anyone who thought the main case against Liberman was weak would not be rushing to allege fraud in the second case, which will be harder to prove than breach of public trust.
Additionally, generally mentioning that the case was a close call is not unheard of, but giving extensive, detailed public voice to your inferior’s disagreements with you is simply not done.
Yet it appears Weinstein was willing to negotiate to avoid his biggest fear: of filing and losing the big case against Liberman.
Lador’s position on public corruption has been uncompromising to a fault, even appealing to the Supreme Court on the acquittals of former prime minister Ehud Olmert – where he has already been embarrassed and will likely be embarrassed again.
But he was willing to give Weinstein some public support if he would have a chance to convict Liberman of a serious crime like fraud, and have his reservations listed regarding closing the main case.
This was no small feat for Weinstein, as many in the State Attorney’s Office still see him as a defense attorney and an outsider, whereas Lador has been a “prosecutor’s prosecutor” for most of his career .
This compromise crucially makes it unlikely that Liberman will get a quick plea bargain or that the state will do anything special to rush his trial in time for a decision before the next government forms.
Weinstein did his part and is basically out of the picture now. How to conduct the trial and how fast is essentially up to Lador as head prosecutor. Lador has made it clear in talking about Olmert that he is against persons serving in high posts who are accused or convicted of any financial crime, let alone fraud.
He is not interested in doing Liberman any favors whatsoever. That does not mean that there will not be a plea bargain at some point or that the trial will not finish faster than usual.
Lador will grant Liberman the expedited process that any other person who cooperates with the prosecution would get, and if the case encounters difficulties, may consider a deal. But that is all that Liberman can expect.
Can Liberman try to come back as a minister before the case is over? Maybe.
Legally, after the election and without being convicted of a crime carrying a finding of “moral turpitude,” he may be eligible to be a minister, just as he might not have had to resign on Sunday.
But the Meretz party and others will be waiting to refile a petition against him with the High Court of Justice to disqualify him, and he would be just as worthy of disqualification then as now. Namely, if either the court or Weinstein says that what he is accused of, if convicted, would carry a finding of moral turpitude, he could be barred from returning as a minister and suspended from the Knesset.
Whatever is being said in public, his quick resignation showed he was not willing to find how a court or Weinstein would rule. For while Weinstein closed the main case against him, he also hit Liberman with extremely harsh language, and is trying to hold off an internal revolt with the current compromise.