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Israeli prosecutors fail to bring against officials in Bar-On affair

JERUSALEM, Sept. 2 (JTA) — Another chapter in the Bar-On affair has come to an end. Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein and Israel’s state prosecutors decided Tuesday that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against two figures close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in connection with the short-lived January appointment of Roni Bar-On as attorney general. The decision blocked further legal measures against Avigdor Lieberman, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, and David Eppel, a prominent businessman. Rubinstein stressed, however, that his decision did not clear the two of all suspicion that they had committed improprieties in connection with Bar-On’s appointment. A three-month police investigation was launched earlier this year after an Israel Television report alleged that Bar-On was appointed as part of a deal to provide a plea bargain to Shas Knesset member Rabbi Aryeh Deri, who is on trial for corruption. In turn, Deri allegedly promised his party’s support for the Hebron agreement, which was coming up for Cabinet approval at the time, the television report said. Police investigators had recommended that Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi — as well as Lieberman and Deri — be indicted in connection with the influence-peddling scandal. But Rubinstein and State Prosecutor Edna Arbel decided in April that there was insufficient evidence against Netanyahu and Hanegbi, and that only Deri should be indicted. That hearing has not yet been held. Bar-On won Cabinet approval Jan. 10, but stepped down two days later amid growing charges in political and legal spheres that he lacked the experience to hold Israel’s top legal post. Two weeks later, the Cabinet unanimously approved Rubinstein to serve as Israel’s attorney general. In a related development, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported this week that Netanyahu was seeking a foreign donor to pay the legal fees of attorney Ya’acov Weinroth, who represented Netanyahu during the Bar-On affair. Weinroth had submitted a bill to Netanyahu for $50,000 after consulting with Israel’s bar association, which decided that it would be inappropriate for Weinroth to waive the fees, according to Ha’aretz. The paper added that Netanyahu asked the state comptroller for permission to seek a foreign donation to cover legal expenses. The state comptroller’s office said it had not approved Netanyahu’s request. Netanyahu’s media adviser, Shai Bazak, said the prime minister had not yet approached any potential donor, and that if his request was turned down by the state comptroller, Netanyahu would pay for the expenses out of his own pocket. Sources at the Prime Minister’s Office said there were previous instances in which donations covered the legal fees of public figures, including Deri’s corruption trial and National Infrastructure Minister Ariel’s Sharon’s libel suit against Time magazine during the mid- 1980s.

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