With fresh evidence in hand, police grill Liberman, again

Bribery suspicions could spell more serious indictment against former FM, who may be forced to face off with one-time deputy Ayalon in an interrogation room

With new evidence against Avigdor Liberman in place, police on Tuesday night interrogated the former foreign minister for 40 minutes, amid reports that the indictment in the offing against the Yisrael Beytenu party leader may ultimately prove to be more severe due to possible bribery charges.

Police were also mulling the option of staging a confrontation between Liberman and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who reportedly came forward with damning information about his former boss, Ynet reported on Tuesday.

Liberman stepped down as foreign minister on December 14, after the state prosecutor announced his intention to file an indictment against him over relatively minor allegations of breach of trust and fraud. However, since then, the indictment, which at the time seemed forthcoming, has been delayed due to new information.

If the minor charges are ultimately compounded with a count of bribery, the indictment could prove to be grave in scope, portending a major impact on Liberman’s political career.

Ayalon on Monday denied providing the testimony that led police to summon his former boss for further questioning, claiming that he was never interrogated regarding what has been dubbed the “ambassador affair,” or that he had ever given testimony about the case.

The deputy foreign minister, who was unceremoniously omitted from Yisrael Beytenu’s Knesset roster in early December, was responding to reports citing sources closely involved with the investigation to the effect that his testimony had revealed the new evidence that was stalling the indictment.

On Sunday, the State Attorney’s Office announced that it would be calling on Liberman for another round of questioning over his indictment, stating it had uncovered new evidence suggesting that he may have lied to his investigators when testifying about his role in the abortive appointment of Ze’ev Ben Aryeh as ambassador to Latvia.

Ben Aryeh, when serving as Israel’s ambassador to Belarus in 2008, allegedly gave Liberman documents related to a second, far more serious investigation into Liberman’s affairs (it was later dropped for lack of evidence).

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.

When Liberman stepped down, it was expected that Ayalon would step down with him, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Ayalon to stay in his role, with Netanyahu taking on Liberman’s duties as foreign minister until a new cabinet is appointed.

On Tuesday, apparently resigned to the fact that a return to Netanyahu’s cabinet was not in the cards in the short term, Liberman announced that he was mulling the possibility of influencing policy as the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the upcoming Knesset.

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