Former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said Saturday that while he respected the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court unanimous decision to acquit former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman of fraud and breach of trust charges, the “truth doesn’t always come out” in courts of law.
The three judges’ verdict on Wednesday cleared the way for Liberman to retake his cabinet post, which is set to happen within days. Ayalon was a key witness against him, and his testimony was heavily criticized by the judges.
Ayalon said Liberman was “certainly not fit” to serve as foreign minister. “Everyone understands that.”
Speaking in a Channel 2 interview, Ayalon said that he knew “it was my word against many,” but insisted his testimony was accurate. He intimated that some of his former colleagues at the Foreign Ministry may have felt intimidated, when testifying, by the knowledge that Liberman was likely to return to be their boss again.
He said he wondered why the judges had taken pains to assert that there were inaccuracies in his testimony while ignoring the fact that another key witness, former ambassador Ze’ev Ben Aryeh “changed his story four times over.”
He rejected the notion that he had emerged from the affair as someone lacking in credibility. “The judges [simply] preferred others’ interpretation” of the case, he said.
Liberman, an MK at the head of the Yisrael Beytenu party, was indicted in December 2012 for illegally using his clout as foreign minister to promote former ambassador to Latvia Ben Aryeh, allegedly as a reward for Ben Aryeh leaking to Liberman details of a separate corruption investigation against him.
The judges said in their decision that Liberman should have informed the Foreign Ministry’s appointments committee of his relationship with Ben Aryeh when Ben Aryeh was considered for the post. However, “there was no proof of a sufficiently severe conflict of interests” to merit a conviction, they said.
“After perusing the evidence on the matter, we’ve ruled that Ben Aryeh’s appointment didn’t constitute a promotion for him; nor was it a ‘springboard’ for other future senior positions,” the judges said in a summary of their decision. “Thus, Ben Aryeh’s appointment befitted his qualifications and abilities, as well as the needs of the Foreign Ministry, which wasn’t blessed with many workers whose Russian [language skills] and expertise in the Russian [political] landscape are comparable to Ben Aryeh’s.”
The judges ripped into Ayalon, saying his testimony against his former boss regarding the appointment of Ben Aryeh was “uneven” and may have been driven by personal animus.
“There’s an irreconcilable contiguity between the date of Ayalon’s ouster from Yisrael Beytenu’s Knesset list and the time at which Ayalon chose to turn to police and the media and criticize Liberman over Ben Aryeh’s appointment and other matters, clearly contradicting opinions he had voiced earlier,” they said. “Thus there is, at the very least, reasonable doubt regarding Ayalon’s claims, and [the court] cannot make a criminal conviction of the defendant based on his testimony.”