The trial of Avigdor Liberman, until recently Foreign Minister, recorded its first day of questioning Thursday on charges against him of bribery and breach of public trust.
After more than a decade of hounding by the police on various alleged crimes, the police and government prosecutors finally nailed down an indictment last year on charges that he unfairly tried to advance the career of diplomat Ze’ev Ben Aryeh, who was said to have provided him with inside information on one of the police investigations against Liberman in 2008, at the time he was a Knesset Member.
Liberman has followed in the footsteps of more than two handfuls of politicians charged with various crimes the past few years, and shouted to the hilltops, “Not guilty.”
He won some public sympathy because of the years of the fruitless investigations against him. Liberman is a Russian immigrant and former nightclub bouncer who has scared the establishment with his growing popularity as a shoot-from-the-hip nationalist.
When an indictment was finally handed down late last year, it just happened to coincide with the elections, forcing him to leave his position as Foreign Minister.
However, Liberman secured a promise from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that he can return to his post in the event that the three-justice Jerusalem court declares he is innocent. Liberman needs to be acquitted to continue his political career. In the meantime, the Prime Minister also is Foreign Minister.
The prosecution was depending on Ben Aryeh, who was the ambassador to Belarus and had contacts there that enabled him to tell Liberman that the police were on his trail concerning other criminal charges. Liberman allegedly then tried to reward him with a similar position in Latvia, although Ben Aryeh eventually was not appointed.
A lot depends on Ben Aryeh, who the prosecution trotted out in court on Thursday, but he promptly turned the tables, claiming he never even asked for the job as ambassador to Latvia.
Ben Aryeh previously was convicted of failing to disclose information concerning Liberman’s alleged favoritism, and the government prosecutors rewarded him for cooperating in the investigation by sentencing him to four months of community service, without any jail sentence.
On Thursday, he suddenly suffered from a lapse of memory.
The government prosecuting lawyer reminded Ben Aryeh that he told police in 2010 that he asked Liberman’s help for a position.
Ben Aryeh then startled the lawyer and said, “I don’t recall that I asked for help from Liberman. You ask why I asked for help, but I say I didn’t ask for help.”
Another “only in Israel’ incident on Wednesday, the eve of the first day of questioning, was a report on Channel 10 television of a police transcript of testimony it obtained. It quoted then Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon as saying that Liberman ordered him to appoint Ben Aryeh.
Liberman’s attorneys were furious and charged that the police leaked the information to influence the trial against Liberman.
Further hearings are bound to show no less interesting remarks.
Ayalon will be called as a witness for the prosecution, and that is the same Ayalon who was summarily dropped by Liberman as a candidate for the Israel Beiteinu party that Liberman.
His memory will be much better than Ben Aryeh’s