Heading for the Treasury? Lieberman
Photo: Dudi Vaaknin

Legal expert: Lieberman can hold major portfolio

Constitutional legalist says ongoing police investigation against Yisrael Beiteinu chair does not prevent him from heading senior government office not involved in probe. Justice Ministry may be out of reach, he adds, but Treasury isn’t

Excluding an unexpected turn of events, Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu is most likely to be the one tasked with putting together Israel's new government.


Tuesday's general elections have been one of the closes political races of recent years; giving Kadima 28 Knesset seats and the Likud 27, and indicating a general rise in the Right's political power. With 99% of the votes in, Israel still does not have a definitive notion of who will be its next prime minister.


Netanyahu stands to lead the government, since under the Israeli electoral system the president – who is officially supposed to assign the winning candidate with forming the government – is bound to task the candidate most likely to form a coalition with the job, which in this case does not necessarily means the de facto winner.


One of the pivotal dilemmas Netanyahu faces is Avigdor Lieberman's future role in his government. Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu won 15 mandates, making it the third largest party in the Israel. But the victory is clouded by the fact that Lieberman is under police investigation for alleged fraud, begging the question – what kind of portfolio can a politician who is under investigation hold?


Limited choices

Lieberman is sure to demand one of the more prominent portfolios, such as that of the Treasury. Other sizable portfolios, such as the Justice Ministry or Public Security, are beyond his reach, since several year ago the Attorney General's Office declared that no minister can preside over an office which may lead a probe against him.


Constitutional law expert Professor Ariel Bendor of Haifa University explains: "The Attorney General's Office decision is base of the premise that the minister in charge of the police cannot be probed by it, and the minister in charge of the judicial system cannot be prosecuted by it."


Bendor further says that there is no legal restriction preventing Lieberman from heading other major offices, such as the Finance Ministry: "There is no reason to disqualify a man who has a long history in public service simply because he is under investigation, as long as there is no direct link between the office and the investigation.


"We need to exercise caution when we come to apply this decision, in order to avoid a situation in which a person, who was never indicted or convicted of any wrongdoing, would be unable to serve in a long line of public roles."


But what if one of the suspicions against Lieberman is money laundering? Even that, says Bendor, does not automatically disqualify him from becoming the finance minister.


"The Israel Money Laundering Prohibition Authority is part of the Justice Ministry. The specific link to the Finance Ministry may result in certain restrictions, but he cannot be categorically barred from office, since his being the finance minister would have no bearing on the investigation."


פרסום ראשון: 02.12.09, 12:25
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