Ex-envoy who leaked information to FM: Discrepancies in police version
Former ambassador to Belarus tells Channel 1 envelope containing document outlining significant details regarding investigation against Lieberman had already been opened when he received it. 'An ambassador is not a mailman,' Ben-Arieh says. Foreign Ministry official: He is a disgrace to Israeli diplomatic service
The former ambassador to Belarus, Zeev Ben-Arieh, who was placed on unlimited forced leave without pay for leaking information to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman regarding the investigation against him, said he did not know his actions constituted a criminal offense.
Speaking to Channel 1, Ben-Arieh said, "There is an asymmetry (in the police's claims). I cannot comment, as I am under investigation. There are many discrepancies and many things which I am supposedly guilty of that have nothing to do with this (affair)."
The former ambassador accused police of purposely blowing the affair out of proportion. "I little fly has been made into a giant elephant, so that the elephant will cover up the other developments," he said.
Police handed a report on Ben-Arieh to the Civil Service Commission on Wednesday, which describes the accusations. After consultations that took place between the commission and the Foreign Ministry, Ben-Arieh, who currently serves as an advisor to Lieberman, was suspended.
Police said the former ambassador confessed to the allegations against him during questioning.
Investigators say that during the period Lieberman was serving as a Knesset member, in 2008, Ben-Arieh received a request to transfer a document directly and discreetly from the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem to the authorities in Belarus regarding Lieberman's investigation.
'Clear obstruction of justice'
The document was first handed to the Justice Ministry by Israel Police. It contained a request for legal assistance from the certified authorities in Belarus and outlined significant details regarding the investigation, including issues for which assistance was requested.
The ambassador reportedly copied the classified information detailed in the request ahead of Lieberman's visit to Belarus a year and a half ago. He then informed Lieberman of the request and illegally passed it on to him when the two met during the said visit.
Ben-Arieh told Channel 1 that the envelope containing the document had already been opened by the time he received it.
"According to what I learned in the Foreign Ministry, the ambassador is not a mailman and cannot relay anything without knowing what it contains. But I received an open envelope. In it there was also a letter addressed to me, so I couldn't pass it on without reading it first," he said.
Asked if Lieberman had anything to do with his appointment as ambassador to Belarus, Ben-Arieh said, "I am certain that he supported me because of my knowledge and talent, not because of any favors."
'Ambassador should know how it works'
"The remarks made by the former ambassador are unbelievably insolent," a senior Foreign Ministry official told Ynet. "There are no other words one can use to define him but as a disgrace to the Israeli diplomatic service."
Foreign Ministry officials were angered by the statements made by Ben-Arieh in the Channel 1 interview, and particularly his attempt to make his actions appear as a routine procedure.
"What did they teach him at the Foreign Ministry? To convey messages to a person being investigated? Since when does one open a sealed envelope? Since when does one deliver its content to an interrogee? This is more of a game and an attempt to pretend innocence. The remarks made by former Ambassador Ben-Arieh are a shame to the office and to professional diplomacy and a theater of the absurd," a senior official said.
"The procedures are clear: Sealed judicial inquiry envelopes must not be opened, and their content must definitely not be transferred to the person being investigated."
The official explained that in cases of judicial inquiry, "an envelope is sent with one letter explaining what it is about and a sealed envelope. The sealed envelope should be handed to the local justice ministry, and it says exactly who it should be given to. The sealed envelope includes material that has absolutely nothing to do with it.
"The ambassador should know how it works. He is briefed on this matter in advance. He conveys such messages secretly. Any person working in the system, and particularly people with this kind of seniority, knows this. There are ways to work, and in the interview Ben-Arieh sounded like he was pretending to be innocent, if not more."
A veteran source in the Israeli Foreign Service criticized the way Zeev Ben-Arieh was recruited to the Foreign Service in the 1990s, without participating in a cadets course.
Minister Lieberman, for his part, called for an investigation against Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen, saying, "When the details of the investigation are published before an indictment is filed, this is a clear obstruction of justice.
"It was also released in a distorted and tendentious manner in order to pressure the State Prosecutor's Office and the public opinion… It wasn't just an obstruction, it was the mother and father of all obstructions of justice," he said.
Roni Sofer contributed to this report