Daily Israel Report

Long-Awaited Verdict in Lieberman Corruption Trial Due Wednesday

Although a conviction wouldn't necessarily bar him from politics, the former Foreign Minister has promised to bow out if found guilty.
By Arutz Sheva
First Publish: 11/4/2013, 2:11 PM

Avigdor Lieberman
Avigdor Lieberman
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Jerusalem Magistrates Court will deliver its verdict Wednesday in the trial of former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman on charges of fraud and breach of trust.    

The ruling will have an immediate impact on the political career of a man who holds a key position in Israel's ruling coalition, following the decision by his party to run on a joint list with Prime Minister Netanyahu's Likud party during the general elections earlier this year.

The stocky 55-year-old is accused of rewarding diplomat Zeev Ben Aryeh with an ambassadorial posting in Latvia after Ben Aryeh tipped Lieberman off about a police probe into his affairs.

If he is convicted and found morally unfit to hold office, he would be stripped of all public office and have to surrender his seat in parliament.

But if acquitted, the nightclub bouncer-turned politician will be able to return to his former cabinet post within days, assuming the attorney general does not appeal. An acquittal will also likely help his Yisrael Beiteinu party boost its popularity, following a disappointing showing in the last general elections.

Lieberman resigned his post as foreign minister in December when it became clear he would be put on trial over then seeking to reward Ben Aryeh. He has repeatedly declared his innocence and stated that if found guilty he will bow out of politics altogether.  

But he is still a Member of Knesset, where he chairs the high-profile committee on foreign affairs and defense, and continues to head the Yisrael Beyteinu party which he founded.    

Wednesday's verdict could go one of several directions.

If Lieberman is acquitted and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein chooses not to appeal, Lieberman could return immediately to his former post at the foreign ministry, which has been empty for the past 10 months. In his absence, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) has been serving as Israel's top diplomat.

But if he is convicted, the full extent of the verdict will not be known until sentencing in several week's time, when the court will have to decide whether the offence includes the crucial finding of "moral turpitude".

If the guilty verdict does not include such a finding, and if he is not sentenced to time behind bars, Lieberman will be legally able to return to the cabinet.

Even if he is handed a prison sentence, he could return to government after completing the term - although that would mean reneging on his pledge not to do so if convicted.

Then, of course, there is also the possibility of an appeal. 

If, however, the conviction does include a finding of moral turpitude, he will be forced to resign from the current Knesset immediately.  

If the court also hands him a jail sentence of more than three months, he will be barred from politics for seven years. 

But, as long as there is no jail term attached to a moral turpitude finding, Lieberman could still remain a minister, despite having to resign from parliament.    

An unfavorable court ruling would also have implications for Yisrael Beiteinu, whose controversial decision to run on a joint ticket with the Likud party already resulted in a depleted number of MKs for the party.    

The ruling Likud-Beiteinu alliance holds a narrow majority of 31 seats within the 120-member parliament.     

Taking the stand in May, Lieberman admitted Ben Aryeh had indeed given him papers but dismissed them as "not useful", and claimed he had ripped them up and flushed them down the toilet.    

Born in Moldova, Lieberman immigrated to Israel in 1978 at the age of 20.

He read social sciences at Jerusalem's Hebrew University then served as a corporal in the army before beginning to climb the political ladder - first within the Likud party, where he become Netanyahu's chief-of-staff during the latter's first term in the Prime Minister's office between 1996-1999.    

He founded Yisrael Beiteinu in 1999 aimed at capturing the votes of Israel's growing community of Soviet Jewish emigres.