Left-wing Meretz party leader Zahava Gal-on petitioned the High Court of Justice Friday, asking for an order compelling the prime minister to fire Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman in light of his imminent indictment for breach of trust and fraud.
The petition charges that Liberman’s alleged offenses “violate the basic elements of integrity in public service, causing serious damage to the public’s confidence in its elected officials and harming democracy.”
Liberman announced Thursday that he would not step down immediately, and that he would consult with his lawyers and consider the impact of his position on the upcoming elections before making a final decision.
“I said I would resign if I was indicted in the major case against me,” Liberman said, referring to substantive allegations of obstruction of justice and money laundering, which were dropped for lack of evidence by the attorney general on Thursday. “But this is something else.”
Gal-on led a chorus of left and center-left politicians on Thursday who called for the foreign minister to resign. She said, “Liberman’s recent lashing out against the European community, meant to divert attention from his indictment, proves that every day that he sits in office causes irreparable damage to the State of Israel.”
Liberman said he had received a legal opinion asserting that the charges, to be filed against him within 30 days, are not so grave as to require him to resign. According to a 1993 Supreme Court decision, however, a person can no longer serve as minister as soon as he or she has been indicted. Once legal proceedings have been initiated, the prime minister is obligated to fire a minister. This is what happened to former interior minister Aryeh Deri, who was imprisoned in 2000 for accepting bribes. But some analysts contend that the two cases are not necessarily comparable and that it is unclear whether the prime minister is obligated to send Liberman home.
It was not immediately clear when the High Court is expected to rule on Gal-on’s petition.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced Thursday that he was not confident the state prosecution would be able to secure a conviction of Liberman on the more serious accusations that he established several shell companies that laundered millions of dollars, much of which made its way into his pockets. According to that case, between 1999 and 2006, while he held public office, millions of shekels were allegedly transferred to him and his daughter by people in Israel and abroad. A key witness for the prosecution, the state said, was now no longer able to remember crucial evidence.
Others in the state prosecution, Weinstein indicated, believed charges should have been brought over the major allegations, but the attorney general decided to close the case.
The foreign minister will be indicted instead on breach of trust and fraud charges for receiving classified Justice Ministry documents related to his investigation from the former ambassador to Belarus, Ze’ev Ben Aryeh. He then allegedly sought to reward Ben Aryeh for helping him by having Ben Aryeh appointed to a second ambassadorship — an appointment that did not ultimately go ahead.
Asher Zeiger and Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.