When former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman sits before police investigators later this week to give his version of Ze’ev Ben Aryeh’s ambassadorial appointment process, he will be forced to respond to testimony provided by none other than his former deputy, Danny Ayalon.
On Sunday, the State Attorney’s Office announced it would be calling in the Yisrael Beytenu head for another round of questioning over his looming breach of trust indictment, stating it had uncovered new evidence related to his conduct in the affair which suggests he may have lied to his investigators when testifying about his role in the abortive appointment of Ben Aryeh as ambassador to Latvia.
On Monday, it emerged that Ayalon’s testimony — collected after police followed up on media reports, revealing that members of the Foreign Ministry Appointment Committee had misgivings about the process – was the evidence that has delayed the filing of the indictment and may impact Liberman’s hopes for a swift resumption of his ministerial career.
According to a report on TV’s Channel 10, Ayalon testified that Liberman pushed ahead Ben Aryeh’s appointment; other committee members corroborated Ayalon’s comments when questioned by the police.
If the evidence proves that Liberman not only failed to report Ben Aryeh for giving him secret Justice Ministry documents, as the current allegations have it, but that he actively tried to use his influence to reward Ben Aryeh for his loyalty by setting up his next diplomatic posting, the relatively minor charge of breach of trust could balloon into a fully fledged bribery charge.
Ben Aryeh, when serving as Israel’s ambassador to Belarus in 2008, allegedly gave Liberman documents related to a different and far more serious investigation into Liberman’s affairs (one that was later dropped due to lack of evidence).
Hours after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced the pending indictment earlier this month, Liberman held a press conference in which he said that Ben Aryeh tried to give him information not because he, Liberman, had asked him to do so, but because Ben Aryeh had chosen to do so.
The embattled head of the Yisrael Beytenu party expressed several times after he stepped down as foreign minister that he hoped to have the case against him closed in time for the upcoming elections on January 22. However, the investigation’s resumption and the delay in filing the indictment seems certain to prevent Liberman from serving as a minister in at least the early period of the next government.
If Liberman is eventually convicted and sentenced to three or more months in prison and if the court determines that the case involved moral turpitude, he would be banned from reentering politics for seven years.
Liberman shocked followers of Israeli politics earlier this month when he inexplicably omitted Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon from his party’s slate ahead of the upcoming elections. When Liberman resigned, it was expected that Ayalon would step down with him, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Ayalon to stay in his role, while Netanyahu replaced Liberman until a new government is formed.
Channel 2 political analyst Amnon Abramovich said Monday that Liberman would go to his police questioning armed with media reports quoting Ayalon as saying he couldn’t recall his then-boss intervening in Ben Aryeh’s appointment process, as well as the legal argument that testimony by a possibly vengeful ex-subordinate is invalid.