The indictment against Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman, which was due to be filed shortly after his parliamentary immunity was waived and his resignation as foreign minister went into effect at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, was delayed.
Liberman indictment delayed as resignation takes effect
The Ministry of Justice spokesman only said that it would be filed in "the coming days," having confirmed officially only hours before that the indictment would be filed Tuesday barring any major surprises.
Charges in the indictment were expected to include fraud and breach of public trust in the Belarus Ambassador Affair, based on the publicized indictment forwarded to the Knesset on Thursday by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.
There are two main possibilities for delay.
The less likely possibility is that a plea bargain deal is still in the works. This is less likely because of all of the dynamics that have showed the state against any plea bargain deal without "moral turpitude," whereas there is little reason for Liberman to take a deal with "moral turpitude."
A finding of moral turpitude would knock Liberman out of public life for seven years.
The more likely reason is that the state is seriously looking at the shocking report by Channel 10 on Monday night that not all key witnesses were questioned and that the state may need to add even more serious new charges against Liberman.
That does not mean it will add new charges, but as with many issues in the Liberman cases, there could be an internal fight on the issue that is not yet resolved.
Channel 10\’s Monday night report said several members of a Foreign Ministry appointments panel were never questioned in regard to the investigation involving Liberman and former Belarusian ambassador Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh.
Information from those sources could contradict Liberman’s story in the Belarus Ambassador Affair, signaling a possible breakthrough in the case against the outgoing foreign minister.
According to the report Monday night, some members of a Foreign Ministry appointments panel – who were never questioned in the investigation – say Liberman activelypushed for Ben- Aryeh’s promotion in the ministry.
Until now, Liberman has maintained and the prosecution has accepted, that his main alleged criminal act was not actively revealing to the appointments committee Ben-Aryeh’s illegal conduct.
Liberman announced his resignation as foreign minister on Friday after his indictment on charges of fraud and breach of trust last week, but remains an MK and head of the Yisrael Beytenu party.
Ben-Aryeh was forced to resign from the Foreign Ministry after he confessed last year to passing classified information on to Liberman regarding an investigation into the foreign minister. The Justice Ministry requested in 2008 that Ben-Aryeh pass on a document requesting legal assistance from the Belarusian authorities in an investigation of Liberman, and Ben-Aryeh copied the information and gave it to Liberman. Ben-Aryeh was convicted for his actions of obstruction of justice in June.
At least one panel member said Liberman later pushed for Ben- Aryeh’s promotion in the ministry.
“I’m not senile and I remember exactly what happened there,” said one of the eight members of a Foreign Ministry appointments panel who has not been questioned as of yet. If the report is proven true, it could lead to new, more serious charges and could hurt Liberman’s credibility.
The report also said that Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who sat on the panel and is still currently No. 2 in Yisrael Beytenu, was not questioned.
Responding to the report, Liberman’s spokesman said that all of the protocols of the investigations until now are public and available, and that any new anonymous accusers should “come forward” and not hide. It was not clear Monday evening why the panel members were not questioned in the investigation and why they waited until now to come forward.
The expected immediate filing of the indictment could signal that the state will not follow-up on the Channel 10 report, but not necessarily, as the state can still amend and expand on the indictment after filing it.
Earlier on Monday, after meeting with Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to discuss issues relating to the indictment pending against their client in the Belarus Ambassador Affair, Liberman’s attorneys, including lead attorney Giorda Aderet, said it was possible to fast-track the case.
Prior to the meeting, media reports had suggested that Liberman’s attorneys requested the meeting in order to examine the possibility of reaching a plea bargain with the attorney-general.
But following the meeting, the attorneys did not mention a plea bargain and did not provide specific estimates about how fast the trial could proceed, or if it could conclude before the January election or the formation of a new government.
With no plea bargain in sight, the indictment could possibly be submitted as early as Tuesday.
The Justice Ministry offered no comment on the meeting.
Until now, all leaks regarding a plea bargain appear to have come from Liberman’s camp, although on Sunday he denied seeking a deal and said he was happy to clear his name in court.
A plea bargain would help Liberman avoid a conviction of “moral turpitude,” which would bar him from holding public office for seven years.
Government Services Minister Michael Eitan (Likud) wrote Weinstein a letter on Monday urging him not to deem Liberman’s indictment as lacking moral turpitude, warning that such a step would shame the entire country.
Eitan said Liberman should have known Ben-Aryeh was unfit to be an ambassador because he tried to give him information about the investigations against him.
“By taking such steps, Ben- Aryeh became an unacceptable candidate to represent Israel, and he even became dangerous,” Eitan wrote Weinstein. “By violating his loyalty to the state and its laws, the ambassador became a security risk with wide access to classified information about the country’s defense, internal security and diplomatic relations.
It should have been clear to Liberman that Ben-Aryeh should have been prevented from becoming an ambassador.”
Eitan said that by appointing Ben-Aryeh, Liberman put his own personal interests over those of the state. He said he believed Liberman attempted to appoint Ben-Aryeh in order to receive future services from him.
Kadima MK Dalia Itzik came to Liberman’s defense, blasting Weinstein and the State Attorney’s Office for initiating the indictment.
“I don’t know what they know now that they didn’t know before,” Itzik said. “Why did they have to do it a month before the election? It [causes] the public’s faith in the State Attorney’s Office to deteriorate. It is legal torture and it looks bad.”