Liberman indictment casts cloud on political future

Justice Ministry officially charges Yisrael Beytenu head with fraud and breach of trust in Belarus Ambassador Affair.

Avigdor Liberman 521 ok (photo credit: Reuters)
Avigdor Liberman 521 ok
(photo credit: Reuters)
The Justice Ministry indicted Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Sunday morning, charging the former foreign minister with fraud and breach of trust in the Belarus Ambassador Affair.
The indictment does not bar Liberman from running for Knesset and he remains second on the joint Likud Beytenu list after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
He will not have to quit the Knesset unless he is convicted and the charges against him are found to bear moral turpitude.
If Liberman is convicted and sentenced to jail, and the court rules that the charges bear moral turpitude, he will not be able to serve as a minister for seven years after he completes his sentence – as happened to former interior minister and current Shas candidate Arye Deri.
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The seven-year cooling-off period could also be applied by the High Court of Justice even if Liberman is not given jail time. There is also a small chance that he might be sentenced to prison without the finding of moral turpitude, which would enable him to be a minister after he completes his sentence.
On Thursday, Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein presented the Knesset with an updated indictment against Liberman. The main change was that Liberman’s alleged involvement in helping former ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh become ambassador to Latvia was now described as having been of a more active nature.
The change followed questioning of the members of the Foreign Ministry’s appointments panel, including Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, and the requestioning of Liberman.
The indictment still focuses on Liberman’s failure to report that Ben-Aryeh illegally leaked information to him on an investigation into the former foreign minister’s involvement in an alleged massive money laundering scheme, and on allegations that Liberman acted on Ben- Aryeh’s behalf to get jobs at the Foreign Ministry as a “payment” of sorts after the fact.
Liberman resigned as foreign minister and waived his parliamentary immunity two weeks ago, when the initial draft indictment was presented to the Knesset.
The Justice Ministry spokesman explained on Thursday that since Liberman had waived his parliamentary immunity on that draft indictment out of an abundance of caution, Weinstein resubmitted the updated document to the Knesset so Liberman could once again waive his immunity regarding the new, somewhat more serious charges.
The indictment now indicates that Liberman discussed the possible ambassadorship with Ben-Aryeh when the latter asked him for advice, and he told Ben-Aryeh that he would support his candidacy.
Next, the updated document says, Liberman summoned Ayalon and told him they should appoint Ben-Aryeh to the ambassadorship.
Ayalon, in his capacity as deputy foreign minister, served as chairman of the ministry’s seven-person “higher appointments” committee responsible for filling vacancies at embassies and consulates abroad, such as the Latvia ambassadorship.
Liberman told Ayalon that Ben- Aryeh was the most qualified candidate for the job, although he did not mention to Ayalon the earlier incident in which Ben-Aryeh had leaked the information to him, according to the indictment.
Ayalon, who barely knew Ben- Aryeh, then acted based on Liberman’s recommendation and on documents before the committee to try to ensure his appointment, the indictment says. The document does not specify what actions Ayalon took in that regard, although the issue will probably be fleshed out by witnesses in court.
Liberman issued a statement responding to the amended indictment by again denying any criminal wrongdoing. He said nothing had changed in light of the questioning of additional witnesses and allegations that he had asked Ayalon to appoint Ben-Aryeh.
Liberman said he wanted the issue to be clarified in court, and to that end had already informed the Knesset that he was waiving his parliamentary immunity – in addition to having quit his post as foreign minister – so that the matter could be quickly resolved in court.
“All rumors about a plea bargain, as well as other rumors, are without foundation, and the truth will emerge in the court,” he said.