The Liberman case: Is politics influencing the law?

Analysis: Police Commissioner Danino's comment saying the FM's case should be closed will likely spark much debate.

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)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman got a big, unexpected boost on Saturday in his “campaign” to have the criminal case against him closed. The support was unexpected because it came from Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino.
He essentially said that because the alleged crimes were more than 10 years old, the case should be closed.
Danino added that part of his reasoning was that to prosecute a case after 10 years was not an effective way to deter corruption, and actually sent the opposite message to corrupt officials: that the wheels of justice are too slow to catch them.
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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.
It is highly unusual for a top law enforcement officer to put public pressure on the State Attorney’s Office to close a case while the state is still deliberating. Usually the standard law enforcement quote about such questions is “No comment pending investigations.”
Therefore Danino’s remarks would appear out of place even if he did not answer directly to Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich – Liberman’s second in command in Yisrael Beytenu – and even if they were not made during election season.
What was Danino trying to accomplish? The background to the comments is that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein said on November 8 that he would decide whether to close the case or indict Liberman within a month.
Granted, Weinstein had hinted at this decision numerous times in the past few years, but this was the first time that he committed to a date before a court – in response to a petition demanding the state make a decision on the case. Rumors carried by media reports have suggested Weinstein plans to close the case.
Media reports have said the attorney general feels that despite the mountain of incriminating documents against Liberman, the case has no real chance of a conviction, because most key witnesses are abroad and have refused to come to Israel to testify.
These rumors find support in the general rule that the longer the prosecutor takes to decide what to with a case, the more likely it is that the prosecution has serious concerns about the case’s viability. If a case is an easy conviction, there is no reason for delay.
Also, Netanyahu’s union with Liberman convinced many that the case would be closed. But some of the allegations against Liberman are only four years old, or even more recent, not the 10 that Danino suggested.
Additionally, his predecessor in the police pushed hard to file this case against Liberman.
Next, Danino seemed to have a different view about the cases against former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
The main difference was that the prosecution did not hesitate very long in bringing the Olmert cases once it received evidence and that, at this point, Olmert has been convicted in one case. Still, it was striking that Danino made such different public comments about legal matters involving politicians in two camps.
Maybe his comments were not political and he was just providing some additional support for Weinstein – presuming the attorney general announces the closing the Liberman case in about two weeks.
Perhaps Danino genuinely believes all of the back and forth over the Liberman case has damaged law enforcement efforts to rein in corruption, and decided that the unusual step of a public stance was necessary.
Certainly, many have argued that dragging out the Liberman case was in itself a political attempt to politically smear him over an extended period.
Whatever Weinstein decides, assuming he does so soon, Danino’s statement is likely to spark debate about what is appropriate for law enforcement officials to say about a case that is still undecided, as much, as it will about whether his statement was correct.
And his statement certainly does not help those trying to convince Weinstein to indict Liberman.