Israeli attorney general says major corruption case against FM closes over "lack of evidence"

2012-12-13 17:52:15 GMT2012-12-14 01:52:15(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

JERUSALEM, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein explained on Thursday that his decision not to indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on charges of money laundering and bribery stemmed from insufficient and inconclusive evidence.

At the same time, Weinstein did decide to indict Lieberman on charges of fraud and breach of trust, for allegedly promoting former ambassador to Belarus Ze'ev Ben Arye in exchange for the latter providing information about police probes against Lieberman in Belarus.

In October, an Israeli court sentenced Ben-Arye for four months of community service for passing confidential details about a police investigation to the foreign minister.

The major criminal case, which Weinstein decided not to prosecute, is based on suspicions that Lieberman received millions of dollars from private businessmen through straw companies while he was holding a public office of a parliament member and then a cabinet member between 2001 and 2008.

"A careful examination of the evidence shows that we cannot rule out the suspicion that arose, according to which Lieberman perpetrated a complex set of schemes and worked to cover his deeds, in order to allow him to continue with his private business ventures and enjoy their fruits even during his public cadency," Weinstein wrote in his decision.

However, Weinstein explained that the evidence at hand may yield alternative commentary and that the lack of witness able or willing to testify against Lieberman.

Throughout the 12 years of the ongoing investigation, which spread overseas, many of the witnesses have suffered ailments, some of whom died and others have simply refused to cooperate with the Israeli police and the prosecution.

"All of these reasons have brought me to believe that there's no sufficient evidence to prove that Lieberman did partake in the companies after starting his tenure as a minister, in a criminal court beyond reasonable doubt," he added.

The attorney general also pointed out that the decision was objected by several factors within the prosecution.

State Attorney Moshe Lador thought there was enough evidence to charge Lieberman with the straw-companies affair as well which was supported by two other attorneys, Weinstein said.

As for the public ramifications of the announcement made close to the upcoming Jan. 22 elections, there are more question marks than answers in Weinstein's words.

"There are big questions left on the table regarding this case, " Weinstein wrote. "Needless to say, that closing a criminal case due to lack of sufficient evidence does not provide any sort of public 'seal of approval'," he added, calling upon the Israeli public to take these questions under consideration.

The attorney general commented on public criticism against him of dragging his feet on making the decision, nearly 12 years following Lieberman's initial investigation.

"The overall result is that the handling of this case took a long time and I am sorry for that," he wrote.

Weinstein then goes on to describe in the document the start of the affair, since the police initially started investigating Lieberman in 2001. In 2006, an investigation was underway and dozens of witnesses and suspects were interrogated throughout the world, including in Cyprus, Belarus and Russia.

Finally, he expressed his concerns that his decision not to indict Lieberman on this manner might "send Israelis the wrong message, according to which the prosecution isn't fully motivated in its fight against corruption," he wrote, adding that "This fear keeps me up at night."

The Israeli law says that if sitting cabinet members is indicted for what is deemed "serious offense," they must resign or be dismissed. However, the definition is very loose, so it is not clear whether Lieberman may be faced to step down.

Left-wing politicians, like Labor Chairman Shelly Yachimovich, have said that they are planning to demand Lieberman's resignation and take the matter to the Supreme Court if necessary.

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