Entering the courtroom before testifying in former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman’s breach of trust trial on Thursday, former ambassador Ze’ev Ben Aryeh said he was there to shed light on the truth. His tip-off to Liberman regarding a corruption investigation that was being carried out against the former foreign minister put into motion the events that ended in the senior politician’s indictment.
But on the stand, Ben Aryeh said repeatedly that he did not remember specific details about his conversations with Liberman, prompting the prosecution to ask the court to declare Ben Aryeh a hostile witness due to his lack of cooperation, a request the judges declined.
“I do not remember asking for help from Mr. Liberman… or from anyone in the Foreign Ministry,” Ben Aryeh testified, saying that he had not spoken with Liberman about his subsequent appointment as ambassador to Latvia — his alleged reward for helping Liberman — a key issue in the trial. (The appointment was ultimately cancelled.) “I talked with him about re-opening the Belarus embassy, but these were technical issues,” Ben Aryeh added.
Ben Aryeh also backtracked on previous statements he made to the police, denying he had spoken to Liberman about the investigation and insisting that he had only passed him a note.
Ben Aryeh told Israel Radio that he was there to testify neither for nor against his former boss, adding that he didn’t think Liberman should have been indicted in the first place.
Liberman himself had no words for the media, entering the courtroom briskly, surrounded by his lawyers.
Foreign Ministry comptroller Victor Harel also testified on Thursday.
Former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon, a key figure in the proceedings, will take the stand at a later date. He is expected to speak about pressure Liberman placed on him and other Foreign Ministry appointments committee members to name Ben Aryeh as ambassador to Latvia, allegedly in thanks for giving Liberman the heads-up about details of the major corruption allegations that were being probed against him, in a case that was ultimately closed for lack of evidence.
Liberman stepped down as foreign minister on December 14, after the state attorney announced his intention to file an indictment against him over what then appeared to be relatively minor allegations of breach of trust and fraud in the Ben Aryeh affair. But on December 30, Liberman was indicted on sharpened charges.
In transcripts of investigations from 2010, submitted to the court and exposed by Channel 10 news on Tuesday, Liberman related that he received a note from his subordinate Ze’ev Ben Aryeh, at the time ambassador to Belarus, informing his boss of a corruption investigation being carried out against Liberman. Liberman admitted that he received the note at a meeting in a hotel in Belarus, but said that he disregarded it and immediately disposed of it.
“I opened it [the note], saw it, said ‘thanks’ and immediately went to the restrooms and threw it in the water,” said Liberman. “It was insignificant, not serious.”
Liberman also described how he later told fellow Yisrael Beytenu party member Faina Kirshenbaum that Ben Aryeh was “an idiot” and predicted that “he will cause trouble for both of us.”
Police, however, believe Liberman was thankful enough for the note to later support Ben Aryeh’s candidacy for a different ambassadorship, to Latvia, and that the quid pro quo constituted a breach of trust.
Allegations of money-laundering and other crimes by Liberman were dropped in December 2012 due to lack of evidence, but he was indicted for breach of trust and fraud after it emerged that he had allegedly used his influence to pressure a Foreign Ministry committee to appoint Ben Aryeh ambassador to Latvia. Liberman denied he had taken any actions on Ben Aryeh’s behalf.
Liberman resigned his position as foreign minister — though he maintains his Knesset membership — following the indictment in order to focus on his defense for the trial, and in February he briefly appeared in court to deny all charges against him.