The State Attorney's Office will not challenge Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's acquittal in his corruption trial, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein said yesterday.
Citing the "prosecution's over-arching policy of restraint and moderation when it comes to appealing not-guilty verdicts," Weinstein said he would not file an appeal with the Jerusalem District Court. He further noted that "the experts believed an appeal would have little chance of succeeding."
Weinstein stressed that his decision "should not be interpreted as a certificate of approval for Lieberman's actions, which the court called inappropriate, immoral and unbecoming of a public servant, particularly for someone of his stature -- a cabinet minister in the Israeli government."
Lieberman's trial surrounded his conduct as a Knesset member and, later, foreign minister. In 2008, when Lieberman visited Minsk, then-Israeli Ambassador to Belarus Ze'ev Ben Aryeh handed him a confidential document detailing a police probe into his financial dealings and alleged money laundering through front companies. About a year later, Lieberman, then foreign minister, allegedly used his clout to have the ministry's nominations committee appoint Ben Aryeh as Israel's next ambassador to Latvia -- while choosing not to disclose the encounter in Belarus. The Jerusalem Magistrates' Court unanimously acquitted Lieberman on November 6, concluding that his actions did not amount to a quid pro quo and that he did not knowingly engage in a cover-up.
After exhausting the 45-day window the state had to file an appeal, Weinstein ultimately sided with former State Attorney Moshe Lador and his successor Shai Nitzan, who were against a court challenge.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni reacted to Weinstein's decision yesterday. "I respect the attorney-general's decision; the justice minister cannot, should not, deal with personal matters that are handled by the state attorney or the attorney-general and is prohibited from doing so, particularly when the issues at hand involve another cabinet minister. I had the judiciary's back all along."
Yaron Kosteliz, who as a partner at Dr. J. Weinroth & Co. represented Lieberman during his trial, welcomed Weinstein's decision. "I am glad the attorney-general has made this decision; we believed that an appeal was unwarranted because the Magistrates' Courts' verdict was based on unequivocal statements grounded in fact. We are particularly happy because the many years in which a cloud of suspicion has hung over Lieberman due to the ongoing investigations on his conduct are now finally over."
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel was highly critical of Weinstein's decision, saying he "was wrong to decide to forgo a trial on the front companies and opt instead to try the ambassador affair; he has once again shown his weakness."
Nachi Eyal, the director-general of the Legal Forum for Israel, welcomed the decision, but said Weinstein must do some soul-searching over his conduct in the case.