Avigdor Lieberman’s Acquittal Stirs Doubts About Israel’s Anti-Corruption Fight

Fallout From Crumbling of Misconduct Case of the Century

Charges Dismissed: Avigdor Lieberman had faced allegations that he had illicitly received millions of dollars from businessmen laundered through straw companies.
getty images
Charges Dismissed: Avigdor Lieberman had faced allegations that he had illicitly received millions of dollars from businessmen laundered through straw companies.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published November 17, 2013, issue of November 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

It was to be the misconduct case of the century and trumpet a message that the highest of ethical standards is expected in Israeli public life. But when proceedings against Avigdor Lieberman ended with his acquittal on November 6, Israel was left more cynical than ever about the state’s ability to fight corruption.

The saga was one of the juiciest in Israeli legal history. Lieberman, one of the most influential, if polarizing, figures in Israeli politics today, had been under police investigation for a decade-and-a-half on suspicion of various crimes. Among these was the allegation that he had illicitly received hundreds of millions of dollars from businessmen, laundered through straw companies headquartered abroad.

During the years of investigation into his affairs, he turned his party, Yisrael Beiteinu, into a major political force, and rose to become foreign minister — a position he has now resumed, after having taken a year’s hiatus to face the charges following his formal indictment.

But attorneys who worked the case for years felt they saw it falling apart before their eyes even before the judges took their seats. Despite the objections of state prosecutors Moshe Lador and Avia Alef, who headed the prosecution’s economic crimes department, their boss, Israel’s attorney general, closed the main line of inquiry and charged Lieberman only on an incidental alleged misdemeanor.

To Alef, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein’s decision was a mistake: There had “never been a clearer case” for the main accusations, she told the Israel-based Markerweek magazine in May. But instead of a bombshell, the indictment, when it finally came late last year, was more of a firecracker.

Lieberman still faced the likelihood possibility of being barred from serving in public office if convicted. But instead of seeking to expose his financial dealings, the indictment merely accused the then- (and now again) foreign minister of trying to reward a diplomat who gave him a heads-up about confidential judicial inquiries into his affairs in 2008.

The judge, who in Israel decides cases rather than a jury, disputed fact after fact claimed by the prosecution. In the end, the prosecution was left clutching at one straw: Did Lieberman act improperly by failing to report his close relationship with the diplomat in question to the Foreign Ministry’s appointments committee? The judges said yes — but unanimously decided that it wasn’t a serious enough omission to convict him of breach of trust.

Among Israel’s leading jurists there is a feeling that the state prosecution gambled away the big case for what it saw as a safe bet — and lost. “This case was possibly the tip of an iceberg which will never be uncovered,” Michael Partem, vice chairman of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, an anti-corruption group, told the Forward.

The watchdog organization has called for Weinstein’s resignation. The acquittal following the dropping of the main case “calls into question the whole decision-making process” regarding the investigation of public officials, Partem said. Weinstein has responded to critics, saying he did his “duty” of presenting a case and letting the court decide.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.