The trial of former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman began on Sunday at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court. Lieberman is being tried on fraud and breach of trust charges in a case involving his 2009 appointment of diplomat Ze'ev Ben Aryeh to become Israel's ambassador to Latvia.
Lieberman pleaded innocence via his legal team, saying that he "acted properly within his authority and did not commit any criminal offense."
Sunday's court session was held in front of a three-judge panel led by Hagit Mak-Kalmanovich. Prosecution attorney Michal Sabel-Darel said that if Lieberman is convicted, the State Attorney's Office would consider seeking jail time for Lieberman.
Lieberman arrived at the court wearing a suit and tie and accompanied by a battery of lawyers. He maintained a stoic demeanor and refused to answer questions from reporters.
In the indictment, the prosecution claimed that Lieberman actively worked to advance the career of Ben Aryeh, who as Israel's ambassador to Belarus in 2008 relayed information to Lieberman about a separate criminal investigation into Lieberman's business dealings.
Lieberman said that he discarded the information that was given to him by Ben Aryeh in 2008 without looking at it. He also said that in 2009 he did not act to promote his choice of Ben Aryeh to become Israel's ambassador to Latvia and that he did not give the Foreign Ministry's appointments committee any information on the matter.
The next session of the trial is scheduled to be held on April 25. The prosecution's main witness will be former Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who headed the Foreign Ministry's appointments committee in 2009. Ayalon served as an MK for Lieberman's Yisrael Beytenu party in the last Knesset but was left off the party's list before the recent election in January.
Ayalon is expected to testify that Lieberman told him to appoint Ben Aryeh because Ben Aryeh was the best suited candidate for the Latvia post.
Other witnesses will include Victor Harel, the foreign service's inspector-general who wrote a negative review about Ben Aryeh during his time as ambassador to Belarus; former Foreign Ministry Director-General Yossi Gal; former Foreign Ministry human resources head Shimon Roded; and Israel's Consul General in Atlanta Ofer Aviran.
Lieberman will not be able to serve as a minister until a verdict is reached in the trial. He is allowed to serve in the Knesset while on trial. He has said that if he's convicted, he will resign from the Knesset.
If Lieberman is convicted of a crime that includes a moral turpitude designation and if he receives a prison sentence of three or more months, he would not be able to run for Knesset for seven years following the completion of his sentence.
The Movement for Quality Government on Sunday appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein that a ministerial post should not be reserved for Lieberman during the course of the legal proceedings against him.
Lieberman has made clear that he wants to return to the Foreign Ministry once he is legally cleared to do so.
Lieberman's Yisrael Beytenu party ran on a joint list with Netanyahu's Likud party in January's election. Likud-Beytenu received 31 Knesset seats — more than any other list.
The situation has put Netanyahu in a delicate position. With the trial expected to last for some time, it is not clear whether Netanyahu is willing or able to hold open the important role of foreign minister for his political ally. If Netanyahu offers the post to another party, however, his alliance with Lieberman could become strained.
Netanyahu has been serving as foreign minister while he puts together a new coalition. He has until mid-March to form the government.