Court issues ultimatum to investigators, says drawn-out nature of probe unprecedented in Israel.
By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
Although prosecutors and police argued that a final decision regarding the investigation into Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman is just around the corner, a panel of Supreme Court judges on Monday gave investigators a 60-day deadline to finalize their conclusions.
Lieberman filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, claiming that the nearly decade-long investigation into alleged white-collar offenses had been unnecessarily drawn out without any decisions being made by prosecutors.
Lieberman's attorney, Yaron Kostlitch, argued in court that a great deal of damage had been caused to his client's public image by the ongoing investigation.
But investigators painted a different picture, with Ch.-Insp. Asaf Valpish from the National Fraud Unit testifying that the investigation concerned crimes committed "until this very day" and that police were thus constantly gathering new information.
Raz Nizri, senior assistant to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, said that Lieberman would be questioned in the near future and added that he believed "the conclusion of the investigation will not be far after Lieberman's questioning."
Nizri hinted that the interrogation would come shortly after coalition talks are concluded.
Supreme Court Justices Ayala Prococcia, Miryam Naor and Yoram Danziger ordered the prosecutors to update them within 60 days regarding the progress of the investigation and give them an estimate of how long it would take to come to a conclusion as to whether or not to indict Lieberman.
After that report, they ruled, Lieberman would have 10 days to respond to the report, after which the court would determine the future of Lieberman's appeal to stop the probe.
Justices were not impressed by the investigators' arguments, with Prococcia reminding prosecutors of the special guidelines for investigating public officials.
"There has never been a similar example of such a long investigation in the history of the country," said Procaccia. "How is it that since 2000, there is an open investigation?"
"After a year of police investigation, they are supposed to report back or to make a decision - here this is six years, and even at the end, no decision was made," she said.
Lieberman is under investigation for a chain of alleged offenses - including bribes, fraud, violation of trust and violations of anti-money laundering laws.
In January, after police detained Lieberman's daughter Michal and a number of his confidants for questioning two weeks before the elections, Lieberman stepped up his criticism of the investigators in his case.
At the time, Nizri responded that it was not fair to describe the probe as a 10-year-old case in light of the large amount of new information investigators had uncovered in 2008.
Despite the impending interrogation, Mazuz told Prime-Minister designate Binyamin Netanyahu that there was no legal obstacle to appointing Lieberman foreign minister, Israel Radio reported Tuesday.
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