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.
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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.
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It’s “literally a judgment call,” according to Yoram Shachar, an Oxford-trained law professor at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. In relation to the Lieberman case, he said, “On exactly the same set of facts, a different group of judges could have easily found that this was breach of trust.”

In Shachar’s opinion, if breach of trust is so loosely defined, it becomes “no instrument at all to fight corruption.”

Emanuel Gross, a law professor at Haifa University, warned of the weakening threat that breach of trust indictments will pose to corrupt politicians in the future as a result of the Lieberman ruling. “We have a problem now,” he said. “Without being able to exercise this offense, breach of trust, in an efficient way, there is no possibility to fight corruption.”

Weinstein could appeal the Lieberman ruling, which was handed down by a magistrate’s court, in a district court and subsequently in the Supreme Court — but given the possibility of further humiliation if unsuccessful, he is thought unlikely to do so.

Jurists such as Gross hope that the legislative branch will step into the breach and create objective criteria for conviction. But some experts think that the significance of the Lieberman ruling is being overblown. Amir Fuchs, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute who co-wrote a book on breach of trust, said that while he would welcome a sharpening of the law’s definition, the court’s decision was “not such a dramatic acquittal.”

Still, even Fuchs said that the Lieberman case, coming on the heels of the Olmert case, in which the main charges against Olmert were rejected, could make prosecutors less willing to act in the future.

“It is a problem for corruption fighting in Israel,” he said. “These two cases can deter [prosecutors] from going to trial again.”

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com

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