Israel's former ambassador to Belarus, Ze'ev Ben Aryeh, was indicted on Tuesday in the Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court and charged with obstruction of justice and passing confidential information to an unauthorized person. According to a plea bargain reached with state prosecutors, Ben Aryeh will admit to disclosing information to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman with the intention of obstructing the legal proceedings against him.
Lieberman had two hearings with Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein in January to determine if he would be indicted on various charges of fraud, breach of trust, money laundering, and harassing a witness. According to Reuters, prosecutors suspect Lieberman of using shell companies and third-party accounts to receive more than $1.2 million illicitly while in public office, including from foreign businessmen with interests in Israel.
Lieberman has denied any wrongdoing, but an indictment against the foreign minister and Yisrael Beitenu party chairman would rock the political establishment. If Lieberman is charged, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be required to dismiss him from his government. While one of Israel’s Basic Laws states that the government must force a minister to quit his position only if he or she is convicted of a crime, a High Court of Justice ruling in the 1990s, issued in the cases of former Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and former Communications Minister Rafael Pinhasi, states that a minister is required to step down the moment an indictment is submitted against him or her.
The pending indictment alleges that Lieberman received millions of dollars from private businessmen abroad, among them Austrian Martin Schlaff, Israeli-Uzbeki Michael Cherney, and diamond tycoons Dan Gertler and Daniel Gittenstein, who allegedly channeled funds through what may have been front companies and corporations owned by Lieberman.
Prosecutors say Lieberman and his confidants are suspected of trying to cover up dealings "through methodical and protracted actions defrauding the public and national institutions."
Netanyahu has publicly supported Lieberman, saying in a statement that he hoped the foreign minister would "prove his innocence" and "continue to make his public contribution."
Ben Aryeh's indictment was submitted to the court by the economic unit of the State Prosecutor's Office, together with details of the plea bargain to which both sides had agreed. According to the plea bargain, Ben Aryeh will admit to the charges against him in the indictment, and the court will be asked to convict him of violation of confidentiality and obstruction of justice. Both the prosecution and defense will ask for a sentence of four to six months in prison or public service, in addition to a suspended prison term whose length the court will decide.
In the indictment, the state prosecutor wrote that as ambassador to Belarus between 2004 and 2009, Ben Aryeh was responsible for passing on Israeli requests for legal assistance to justice officials in Belarus. Around Feb. 27, 2008, the indictment says, Ben Aryeh received confidential information over a request for legal help in the police investigation in Israel against Lieberman, who at the time was a member of Knesset.
In Oct. 2008, Lieberman visited Belarus and met with Ben Aryeh, with whom he had already been acquainted. During their meeting, Ben Aryeh informed Lieberman about the request for legal assistance concerning his investigation and provided various confidential details of the request.
The prosecution claimed that Ben Aryeh exploited the government's trust in him as a public servant, and did not have legal authority to pass on the information to Lieberman, especially since he was the subject of the requested assistance.
Prosecutors said that Ben Aryeh knew he should not have disclosed the information to Lieberman, but did anyway with the intention of thwarting the investigation against him.
Weinstein said on Tuesday that he would announce his final decision on whether to indict Lieberman in a few weeks. He said his decision would not be influenced by efforts in the Knesset to move up parliamentary elections, currently due in October 2013.