Friday October 31, 2014
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31.10.2014
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As elections approach, Lieberman considers plea deal
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Yaakov Borovsky

A loss for corruption

The decision not to indict outgoing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for alleged corruption involving shell companies, while indicting him in the case of Ambassador Ze'ev Ben Aryeh (in which Lieberman is accused of obtaining classified information regarding his corruption case from Israel's ambassador to Belarus in exchange for a promotion), reminded me of something that happened in the 1980s.

A Border Police officer was caught on camera shooting toward protesters in Judea and Samaria, and the Israel Police's inspector-general at the time decided to appoint another officer to investigate the circumstances. The investigation concluded that the shooting was justified, but nevertheless recommended a disciplinary hearing for the shooter — because he wasn't wearing his helmet during the incident.

The shell company investigation ended with the professional decision that the chances for a successful conviction were low. In fact Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein argued that an acquittal was more likely than a conviction. Law isn't an exact science, and it is possible that in light of these circumstances other people would reach different conclusions. But the main question is whether the decisions pertaining to the Lieberman cases are a victory in the fight against corruption or not.

In my opinion, Weinstein's decision is extremely befitting. Closing the "shell company" case advances the fight against corruption in government, because a scenario in which the attorney-general acts against his own professional judgment while dragging a borderline indictment into the courtroom with the goal of avoiding criticism — is a dangerous situation.

Such a scenario is a testament to a lack of independent thinking. Even worse, it creates a situation where the city square becomes a venue for field courts, and where the chief prosecutor is nothing more than a cheap formality.

Those who believe that the attorney-general's decision was clearly unreasonable and have the evidence to show that a different decision was in order, are invited to submit an appeal with the High Court of Justice. Meanwhile, the public can glean what it will from the decision. The decision on the matter tells us that the law enforcement system is independent, and that the next case dealing with governmental corruption will require investigators and prosecutors to provide hard evidence and unconditional proof. They can't offer mere speculation and conjecture, but rather substantial investigatory findings.

With that, I believe that corruption in Israeli government is structured and that this isn't by happenstance. It is organized, institutionalized and systematic.

The decision to indict Lieberman for his failure to report his prior relationship with Ambassador Ben Aryeh to the Appointment Committee isn't subject to factual dispute. From this point forward the legal dispute, if it occurs (I believe the sides will reach a plea bargain due to other considerations), will revolve around defining the border between permissible and criminal behavior, and between what is inappropriate and what is unlawful.

The courts made their rulings very clear in the political appointments case, where it was determined that not all conduct that appears to be a breach of the public's trust is indeed criminal. Providing acquittals in borderline cases is detrimental to the fight against government corruption, because the accused can then flaunt the acquittal as a certificate of integrity and the improper action gains validity.

I expect Avigdor Lieberman, the lawmaker, to vigorously act in the next Knesset to limit, by law, the length of an investigation, to precisely define what is impermissible — the outlawing of political appointments and the various conflicts of interest — thereby highlighting which inappropriate conduct constitutes a criminal offense.

By doing so, he will provide the tools to help in the fight against corruption in government and prevent the relevant legal institutions from filling in the blanks based on fleeting populist trends. The lawmaker's silence comes back like a boomerang.

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