Key witness supports Liberman in graft trial

State questions ambassador to France over Ayalon's claim former FM hinted he should appoint Ben Aryeh as ambassador to Latvia.

Avigdor Liberman at court, April 25, 2013 370 (photo credit: Uri Lanz/ Yisrael Hayom/ Pool)
Avigdor Liberman at court, April 25, 2013 370
(photo credit: Uri Lanz/ Yisrael Hayom/ Pool)
As the corruption trial against former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman continued Tuesday, the state questioned Ambassador to France Yossi Gal over former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon's claim that Liberman hinted to Gal to appoint Ze’ev Ben Aryeh as ambassador to Latvia.
The appointment of Ben Aryeh is one of the central issues in the trial.
During Tuesday's hearing, Gal denied that he had received any such hints, saying "I don't remember anything like that." 
Gal said that Ben-Aryeh was "picked for his significant experience in general and special expertise in the relevant part of the world."
In a dramatic turn of events on the first day of the trial on Thursday, Ben Aryeh, the man who got Liberman into legal trouble, shocked the state by “going hostile” and trying to torpedo its case.
Slamming his fist on the witness stand in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, Ben-Aryeh retracted all earlier damning statements he made to police about having talked to Liberman for three to five minutes about classified information he illegally gave Liberman on a piece of paper, exclaiming instead, “I did not say a single word to him!” Liberman has denied all charges against him.
Ben-Aryeh is the former envoy to which the term “Belarusan Ambassador Affair” refers.
In 2008, in his capacity as ambassador to Belarus, Ben- Aryeh received a classified legal assistance request from the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem asking the Belarusan authorities to assist in investigating criminal money-laundering allegations against Liberman involving banks and persons in Belarus.
One of the three judges now hearing the Liberman case convicted Ben-Aryeh in October 2012, sentencing him to four months of community service for having illegally passed details of the secret documents to Liberman about the ongoing money-laundering investigation during a visit by Liberman to Belarus in 2008.
In his initial testimony to police, Ben-Aryeh testified that he not only handed Liberman a piece of paper, illegally revealing information from the investigation against Liberman, but also spent three to five minutes explaining to him some of the details of the investigation.
This has been part of the heart of the state’s case, as it would shatter Liberman’s story that all he did was take a momentary look at the piece of paper Ben-Aryeh gave him and then throw it away without having really gleaned anything from it.
Liberman’s strategy has been to admit to the underlying facts of the case against him, that he did illegally receive a piece of paper from Ben-Aryeh regarding the investigation against him, but to play down the event’s significance by saying that Ben-Aryeh sprang the issue on him without warning, and that, in any event, he learned nothing about the investigation against him from the incident.
This story would be extremely difficult to uphold if the state could prove that Ben-Aryeh and Liberman discussed the investigation against Liberman for any amount of time, even for only three to five minutes.
The state had hoped that Ben-Aryeh would confirm his earlier allegations against Liberman, and called him as one of its main supporting witnesses, but instead he shocked the state by turning “hostile” to its case and resisting any cooperation with the state’s questioning from the moment he got on the witness stand.
Asked about basic information that Ben-Aryeh later appeared freely ready to reveal and confirm to Liberman’s defense team under crossexamination, he regularly answered “I don’t remember” when asked by the state.”
In the end, the state’s lawyers grew so frustrated that rather than continuing to fight back and forth with Ben-Aryeh to get him to admit to statements he had made to police, it asked and received permission from the court to simply submit his statements to police into evidence in their entirety.
Then came the real fireworks: an all-out attack by Ben-Aryeh and by Liberman’s defense team on cross-examination on any earlier statements he made to police that in any way contradicted Liberman’s story.
Ben-Aryeh appeared to offer several close alternative explanations for his final version of events to the court, but the bottom line was that all he had done was give Liberman a piece of paper, which Liberman threw out.
More specifically, Ben-Aryeh said it made no sense that he would have said anything orally to Liberman about the information on the paper as he was anxious about wiretapping by the Belarusan authorities.
Not only did they not talk about the investigation, but Ben-Aryeh said that his earlier statements to police were wrong, and that he had only said them because “I was under pressure and being threatened” by the case against him.
The state did not let him off the hook easy with this 360 degree turn-around, questioning him fiercely in a post-crossexamination requestioning, noting that he had corrected parts of the transcript of his statements (reflected by his initialing changes to certain portions) and signed at the bottom of the whole transcript that everything was accurate.
Ben-Aryeh tried to argue that already in later statements to police he had tried to “correct” his earlier “misstatements” about having spoken to Liberman, and that he was “not correcting himself from the first time today before the court.”
The second witness to testify was former Foreign Ministry head inspector Victor Harel.
Harel was much more cooperative with the state and helped it lay out a separate part of its case.
The indictment against Liberman not only accuses him of having been illegally given and failed to report being given classified information in an investigation against him, it also accuses him of actively pushing for Ben-Aryeh’s promotion to the position of ambassador to Latvia as subsequent “payment” for Ben- Aryeh illegally giving Liberman the information.
Part of the state’s argument that Liberman pressed actively for Ben-Aryeh’s appointment is the contention that Ben-Aryeh was totally unqualified for the position and could not have been on track to get it without Liberman’s intervention.
Harel testified that he inspected Ben-Aryeh’s running of the Israeli Embassy in Minsk and found that Ben-Aryeh was “totally unfit for managing an embassy.”
Harel added that this opinion of Ben-Aryeh was common in the Foreign Ministry and that Harel had even spoken about his criticism of Ben-Aryeh to other ministry officials with power over deciding which ministry officials got ambassadorships.