Liberman demands answers on timing of graft probe

State prosecutor accused of double standard for advancing Yisrael Beytenu investigation while delaying case involving PM

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman demanded on Sunday that State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan explain why a corruption investigation into his party is being propelled forward during election season, accusing judicial officials of employing a “double standard.”

Speaking before the weekly cabinet meeting, Liberman, who serves as foreign minister, lashed out at what he claimed was an orchestrated assault on his party deliberately timed for the run-up to elections.

“I know the state prosecutor Shai Nitzan, greatly respect the man,” Liberman said. “I hope to hear satisfactory explanations from him.”

Liberman pointed out that the state prosecution had requested a postponement of court proceedings and testimony in a lawsuit filed by Menny Naftali, a former custodian at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home, until after March’s Knesset elections.

“I saw the response of the prosecution on Menny Naftali, in which it was stated it is correct to avoid the political influence of legal proceedings,” Liberman said. “It was very strange that with the case of Yisrael Beytenu there is pressure to accelerate and broaden the investigation. Beyond being shocking, it is a double standard.”

Naftali filed a complaint against his former employers in March, providing extensive descriptions of humiliation, racist remarks and angry outbursts that he allegedly suffered at the hands of Netanyahu’s wife Sara. Naftali is suing the prime minister for NIS 1 million ($260,000) in damages.

Naftali also alleged that the Netanyahus did not meet certain financial obligations regarding his employment and that he was not compensated for irregular hours or workdays.

Liberman lambasted a series of leaks surrounding the case, in which many of his party’s members are suspected of being involved in a wide-scale corruption, bribery, and fraud scandal, including reports early Sunday that more arrests were on the way.

“I heard that hundreds more investigations are on the way,” he said. “This is a planned and well coordinated process, an investigation that is fully coordinated with the election timetable. From what we have seen in the media there will be another wave of arrests and more leaks, the leaks are deliberate and biased. Yes, it raises a lot of questions.”

Liberman predicted that the barrage against his party would continue.

“Until the end of the elections, until the last day, there will be investigations and leaks. They will accompany us for the coming months,” he said.

A year-long undercover corruption investigation became public last week when police arrested 31 suspects in the affair, which allegedly involves a large system of bribes to Yisrael Beytenu politicians in return for political favors.

Many of the suspects in the affair are high-level members of Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, including Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum, who is a key suspect in the case along with her daughter Ranit.

Investigators suspect cash was inappropriately transferred to non-government organizations and various other groups. In return, the organizations allegedly made nepotistic appointments, as well as circulating some of the money back to public officials in the form of cash payoffs and benefits.

In a Facebook post on Friday, Liberman charged that when it came to Yisrael Beytenu “there are no elections without investigations.”

“Time after time, without exception, ‘anonymous forces’ intervene in each election cycle and [try to] harm Yisrael Beytenu’s right to compete fairly,” he wrote.

Liberman said he was “convinced of the innocence” of his party members and urged followers not to rush to judgement because “in a democratic society, a person is innocent until proven otherwise.”

The Yisrael Beytenu chairman also protested the “attempt to smear the party as a whole,” and said he was convinced it would emerge stronger and more united, as it had after previous corruption cases.

In a statement last week Yisrael Beytenu said the arrests were part of a pre-election political witch hunt aimed at impeding the party’s campaign ahead of the March 2015 election.

Israel Police Chief Yohanan Danino rejected Yisrael Beytenu’s accusations, denying that the investigation was politically motivated.

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