Police testimony by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon against his former boss, former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, may advance the state prosecution's case against Lieberman in a breach of public trust case, according to reports by Channels 2 and 10.
Lieberman, who was recently acquitted of corruption charges in another case, was indicted for fraud and breach of trust on Dec. 18.
On May 1, state prosecutors indicted Israel's former ambassador to Belarus, Ze'ev Ben Aryeh, claiming that as ambassador between 2004 and 2009, Ben Aryeh was responsible for passing on Israeli requests for legal assistance to justice officials in Belarus in an investigation against Lieberman, then a Knesset member. Around Feb. 27, 2008, the indictment said, Ben Aryeh received confidential information of a request for legal help in the police investigation against Lieberman.
In October 2008, Lieberman visited Belarus and met at a Minsk hotel with Ben Aryeh, with whom he was already acquainted. During their meeting, Ben Aryeh told Lieberman about the request for legal assistance and gave him confidential details. The prosecution said 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, especiallyas he was the subject of the requested assistance.
Ben Aryeh was charged with obstruction of justice and with passing confidential information to an unauthorized person. According to a plea bargain reached with prosecutors, Ben Aryeh admitted to disclosing information to Lieberman with the intention of obstructing the legal proceedings against him.
Police are now investigating whether Lieberman used his influence to promote Ben Aryeh to the post of ambassador in Latvia as a quid pro quo for his 'assistance' in Minsk. They are questioning members of the Foreign Ministry's appointments committee, which Ayalon heads and which was responsible for appointing Ben Aryeh as ambassador to Belarus.
Recently, Lieberman, chairman of Yisrael Beytenu, effectively fired Ayalon by leaving him off the party's list of candidates for the coming Knesset elections. With Lieberman's resignation from the Foreign Ministry two weeks later, Ayalon was automatically no longer deputy foreign minister. He was, however, asked to stay on in that role by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who kept the foreign minister's portfolio for himself.
Ostensibly, Lieberman ousted Ayalon because the latter held covert meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But a senior Yisrael Beytenu official said Lieberman was aware that Ayalon, as head of the Foreign Ministry’s appointments committee, might testify against him one day, and the decision to fire him was designed to ensure that any future testimony by Ayalon would be tainted as being motivated by the desire for revenge over his sacking.
The official said that Ayalon had previously stated that he did not remember whether Lieberman spoke to him about Ben Aryeh. The same source said that, several days before Lieberman presented the party’s list of candidates, Ayalon was told that he was to be moved up on the list from the seventh spot to the fourth. In the end, however, he was not on the list at all.
Ayalon's testimony may shed light on Lieberman's involvement in Ben Aryeh's appointment. It was unclear whether the testimonies of the other members of the committee would strengthen or weaken the prosecution’s case against Lieberman. Lieberman is expected to be questioned on the case this week, during which police investigators will note his reaction to testimony made by committee members.
A senior Yisrael Beytenu official said on Monday, "When Ayalon is interrogated, he will tell the truth. He has done so in the past and will do so now as well."
A statement by Ayalon's office said, "Ayalon is not being interrogated at this point."
Officials in Lieberman's office refused to comment, but Lieberman himself released a statement on Tuesday, saying, "All the reports over the past few days in the media are spin and attempts to throw sand in the eyes of the public. I will say everything I have to say to the police during their investigations and in court."