Top attorney Jacob Weinroth acquitted of bribery

Judge: "Weinroth lacks guilty mind needed for conviction"; co-defendant tax official Yehoshua Vita convicted of breach of trust, fraud.

Yaakov Weinroth 311 (photo credit: Israel Hadari)
Yaakov Weinroth 311
(photo credit: Israel Hadari)
Attorney Dr. Jacob Weinroth, one of the country’s most prominent lawyers and a specialist in white-collar crimes, was acquitted by the Tel Aviv District Court on Monday of charges of bribery and money-laundering.
The acquittal comes as a blow to the State Attorney’s office, who said that after the verdict the prosecution intends to study the ruling and consider their next steps.
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Although the court acquitted Weinroth, it convicted his co-defendant, former senior Tax Authority official Yehoshua ‘Shuki’ Vita of three counts of fraud and breach of trust.
Weinroth’s indictment nearly two years ago sent shock waves through the legal community.
The leading attorney, who has represented Binyamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, the jailed former finance minister Avraham Hirchson, and numerous other high-profile Israeli figures, was accused by state prosecutors of providing legal services without charge, or for an unusually low fee on behalf of Vita, allegedly in return for services.
However in the verdict Judge Gilad Neuthal said that Weinroth’s conduct was not unusual in the light of his fee-charging behavior to other clients.
The prosecution had said a mutually beneficial relationship had grown between Weinroth and Vita, who was accused of handling tax arrangements by Weinroth regarding his own finances and those of Weinroth’s wealthy clients, including Uzbekistan-born Israeli entrepreneur and industrialist Michael Cherney and Russian- Israeli Arkadi Gaydamak. Gaydamak allegedly paid Weinroth NIS 30 million in legal fees for his tax work on their behalf.
In acquitting Weinroth, however, Judge Gilad Neuthal said that the attorney’s behavior toward Vita had not departed from that toward other clients for whom he had either not taken legal fees, or to whom he had offered a lower fee rate, as he had done in Vita’s case.
“Weinroth lacks the guilty mind needed for a bribery conviction,” the judge said.
Vita was also acquitted of accepting bribes from Weinroth.
In his defense, Weinroth had brought evidence to show that while he took high fees from certain large clients, he has also represented other individuals whom he charges according to their financial means.
Attorneys Boaz Ben-Tzur and Hadas Lis from Weinroth’s office had also testified in court that Weinroth charged certain clients lower fees according to their ability to pay. Weinroth was also acquitted of violating the money-laundering law by concealing the fact that an account-in-trust that he opened in his own name was actually meant for Gaydamak, which the prosecution had alleged was out of concern that the police might seize the funds as part of their criminal investigation against the Russian-Israeli businessman.
However, Judge Neuthal ruled that the defense had not managed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Weinroth was guilty of the charge.
The judge said that Gaydamak had openly worked to invest large sums of money in Israel and that there is a reasonable possibility that Weinroth had opened the account-in-trust to ensure payment of taxes on behalf of Gaydamak and also to ensure the payment of a fee for representing him.
However, in convicting Vita of breach of trust and fraud, Judge Neuthal said that the tax official had maintained a clear conflict of interest in receiving legal services from Weinroth, while simultaneously managing the tax affairs of Weinroth’s clients. Specifically, Vita had managed the tax affairs of Cherney and Gaydamak, while concealing his interests from his superiors.
Weinroth’s defense attorney, Navot Tel-Tzur, said in a statement to The Jerusalem Post that the defense team viewed the decision to acquit Weinroth as important “with regard to maintaining attorneys’ freedom of occupation and discretion in providing legal services.”
“The court dismissed the entire case and accepted the position of the defense that there was nothing wrong with the fact that attorney Weinroth represented Shuki Vita and did not charge him fees in some cases,” continued Tel-Tzur, who added that he hoped the verdict would make the prosecution “think again with regard to indictments on the basis of circumstantial evidence.”
The State Attorney’s office said after the verdict that prosecutors are considering their next steps.
“The fact that Weinroth’s acquittal was [made] due to doubt proves that this was an indictment worthy of being examined by the court,” said the State Attorney’s Office in a statement. “The prosecution will not be deterred from filing charges in the future, including in cases where there is no absolute certainty that they will result in a conviction... as usual, on the basis of professional considerations.”
After the judgement on Monday, Weinroth thanked his wife and family, whom he said had stood by his side throughout the trial.
Weinroth’s press adviser, Tamar Paul-Cohen, later told the Post that Weinroth was happy to be able to return to work.
“That is the most important thing,” said Paul-Cohen.