Ze’ev Ben Aryeh, the former ambassador to Belarus who admitted passing classified Justice Ministry documents to then-MK Avigdor Liberman in 2008, on Thursday night expressed his support for the current foreign minister.
Ben Aryeh was interviewed by Channel 10 following Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein’s decision earlier on Thursday that he would indict Liberman for breach of trust and fraud, while closing a case relating to more serious allegations of obstruction of justice and money laundering.
The breach of trust case stems from an incident in which Liberman allegedly sought to promote Ben Aryeh after the former envoy passed on information connected to an ongoing investigation into Liberman for allegedly receiving millions of dollars in bribes from businessmen.
“I was truly amazed,” Ben Aryeh told Channel 10 in an interview. “Minister Liberman was accused of… breach of trust, ostensibly because of my promotion.” But, the former envoy stressed, “there was no promotion.”
Ben Aryeh was Israel’s envoy to Belarus from 2004 to 2009, and as such he is believed by police to have had access to a 2008 Justice Ministry request via the Foreign Ministry for information from Belarus authorities connected to the Liberman investigation.
In October 2008, Liberman visited Belarus and met with Ben Aryeh, who has now admitted to passing on the information contained in the documents, including the complete list of police accusations against Liberman and a significant amount of the evidence that had been collected by that point. The Justice Ministry sought to investigate Belarusian bank accounts, most of which were registered with local companies.
On Thursday night, Liberman held a press conference in which he said that Ben Aryeh tried to give him information, not because Liberman had asked him to do so but because Ben Aryeh had chosen to do so.
The ambassador handed Liberman an envelope in his hotel room, unrequested, while Liberman was on an official visit to Minsk. When he saw what the envelope contained, he told Ben Aryeh to “stop this rubbish,” tore up the paper, “threw it into the toilet and flushed it away.”
Liberman denied subsequently rewarding Ben Aryeh in any way, noting that the ambassador was “head and shoulders” above other candidates for a subsequent job as ambassador to Latvia — an appointment that did not ultimately go ahead — and that it would have been wrong to punish Ben Aryeh over the envelope incident by seeking to block such an appointment.
Ben Aryeh acknowledged Thursday that he made a grave error, although he said that, at the time, it had not occurred to him that he was violating any laws in passing the information to Liberman. However, he rejected any claims that he is to blame for the situation in which Liberman currently finds himself. Rather, Ben Aryeh said he blamed “those who have reached these (wrong) conclusions” concerning Liberman’s actions.
The former ambassador expressed his continuing support for Liberman, both in the upcoming elections and personally.
If Ben Aryeh could talk to Liberman, he said, “I would tell him to hang in there. Your contribution to the state in your current role is much more important than the filth of these affairs.”
Ben Aryeh was sentenced in October to four months of community service for obstruction of justice and breach of public trust. As part of a plea bargain, he admitted passing the classified Justice Ministry documents in 2008 to Liberman.