The Prosecution gets slaughtered; Where did Weinstein go wrong?

Unlike the close decision in the Olmert case, the resounding defeat also makes it less likely that the state will appeal, although Weinstein may find it hard to back-down.

Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun )
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun )
There is a famous saying that goes: Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
After today’s unqualified acquittal of Avigdor Liberman, the following should be added to the saying: and sometimes you get slaughtered.
There is no way not to read the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court decision in favor of Liberman and against the prosecution and Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein – for whom this was a flagship case – as a slaughter.
With Ehud Olmert, the prosecution was seen as having lost overall because it did not nail Olmert on the main charges and convicted him only on a relatively minor charge of breach of public trust in the side-issue Investment Affair.
Yet the conviction – plus the sense from the court that it thought the prosecution had proved many facts against Olmert, but just not enough for a conviction on the bigger crimes like the Talansky Affair – gave the prosecution some shield from the general defeat.
Wednesday’s decision not only acquitted Liberman, it adopted his side of the story on virtually all of both the factual and legal issues.
The court found that Liberman’s non-reporting of Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh for illegally leaking him classified information was an ethical violation, but not criminal.
It found that he had not campaigned for Ben- Aryeh to receive a promotion, and called into question the testimony of Danny Ayalon against him.
The court said Liberman’s giving Ben-Aryeh a job in his bureau was no real help to Ben-Aryeh in salary or career track, despite Ayalon’s testimony.
In addition, the court disregarded the testimony of former Foreign Ministry comptroller Viktor Harel, who said Ben-Aryeh was not competent to be considered for the Latvian ambassadorship without political help.
Wednesday’s verdict was a smashing defeat for the prosecution and Weinstein, who closed a larger multimillion dollar money-laundering case against Liberman (which accounted for most of the 17 years of investigations) since they viewed it as riskier, but took on the narrower and simpler Belarusian Ambassador Affair as their flagship case.
Unlike the close decision in the Olmert case, the resounding defeat also makes it less likely that the state will appeal, although Weinstein may find it hard to back down.
Where did he and the prosecution go wrong? The court itself gave some advice on this.
The court said the police and the prosecution failed to even sufficiently question Ben-Aryeh about whether he specifically told Liberman that the note from which the whole affair arose stemmed from an Israeli investigation – as opposed to a Belarusian one.
It also noted that the prosecution failed to include in its plea-bargain conviction of Ben-Aryeh a statement on that issue.
This is less excusable than many other errors, as the prosecution could basically put whatever facts it wanted into the plea bargain once Ben-Aryeh agreed to plea guilty.
Next, the court slammed the police for failing to question Ben-Aryeh’s wife and Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirschenbaum about crucial aspects of the case, and criticized the prosecution for failing to bring forth the agent who administered Ben-Aryeh’s polygraph.
Each error has some legal complexity and could be explained individually, but collectively – along with the police failing to question Danny Ayalon and other Foreign Ministry officials about Liberman’s possibly tampering to aid Ben-Aryeh in getting the Latvian ambassadorship, until a Channel 10 news report on the issue – the errors gave the appearance that Weinstein and the prosecution did not do their homework.
And aside from the perspective that no one should have even considered filing the case, the lack of preparation is probably some of the explanation for the blindsided defeat.
This case was likely never intended to be filed as its own case and was never fully reviewed until late 2012, when Weinstein started to craft a compromise within the divided leaders of the prosecution, that they would state that his decision to close the big case was not unreasonable (though they disagreed), if he at least indicted Liberman in the Belarusian Ambassador Affair.
Likely only after the fact, and at rushed speed after over a decade of review of the case being closed, the prosecution designed a strategy for this case.
All of this led not only to defeat on Wednesday, but to Liberman cleaning house.