Former Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is joining the defense team of businessman Beny Steinmetz. Steinmetz is suspected of paying tens of millions of dollars to Guinea President Alpha Conde and his wife as a bribe for the granting of iron mining licenses in Guinea. Weinstein is joining defense team leader Adv. Yuval Sasson from the Meitar Liquornik Geva Leshem Tal law firm as an advisor. Also joining the defense team is American-Jewish lawyer, criminal law specialist, and civil rights activist Prof. Alan Dershowitz.
For Steinmetz, hiring one of the leading figures in Israel's law system is probably a wise move. Before his appointment as Attorney General, Weinstein was one of Israel's leading specialists in white collar crime, having represented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, among others. Weinstein' s new case, however, is raising many eyebrows among the legal community. This will be the first time that a former Attorney General appears as an advocate. Furthermore, Steinmetz is suspected of crimes being investigated by the very system whose decision for which he was responsible - the law enforcement system - only a relatively short time after finishing his term as Attorney General. None of his predecessors as Attorney General, including Supreme Court Justices Menachem Mazuz, Aharon Barak, Meir Shamgar, and Yitzhak Zamir, chose to return to private practice.
Questions of value
Many questions are being asked about Weinstein's choosing to join Steinmetz's defense team, including both questions of value and practical questions. From a perspective of values, it is difficult not to wonder whether it is proper for an Attorney General, who until recently decided the fate of high-profile investigations involving the worlds of business and politics, to represent a businessman who is a suspect in a criminal proceeding for similar offenses.
The investigations approved by Weinstein during his term as Attorney General were of a similar nature to that of the suspicions attributed to Steinmetz. For example, Weinstein approved the opening of an investigation into what was allegedly the biggest case of public corruption in the political system and local government - the Israel Beitenu affair, in which suspicions regarding a series of cases involving bribery, fraud, breach of trust, money laundering, and tax violations were revealed. Is it proper for a man who represented the state in these dramatic decisions to now work on the side of the defense?
Another question is the fee that Steinmetz is paying the former Attorney General for his services. Before his appointment as Attorney General, Weinstein was considered one of the most expensive defense lawyers in white collar crime. His clients paid hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of shekels to be represented by him. What is the price tag for the title of former Attorney General?
On the practical side, people are wondering exactly what Weinstein is being hired to do. Will he appear in court? Will he be present when Steinmetz is questioned? Will he meet with the State Prosecutor, who is part of the system he managed up until recently? What will the investigators and lawyers handling the case feel when the former Attorney General appears on their doorstep? Is this Steinmetz's intention - to utilize the power of Weinstein's previous title?
An irregular choice
According to a source familiar with the investigation against Steinmetz, Weinstein will not directly represent Steinmetz to the authorities in Israel, including the investigators and lawyers advising the investigation, and will not appear in court. "He will handle matters not involving Israel, and will give advice about the general outline of the issue concerning matters having more to do with overseas. He will be a reference as an external advisor," the source told "Globes." According to legal sources, regardless of what Weinstein is supposed to be doing in the case, it is at a minimum surprising, and arouses major questions. "I was surprised that Weinstein took on this case," a senior lawyer said. "There is a certain tradition of former Attorney Generals; they do arbitration, mediation, give opinions to lawyers, and things like that. They don't put on the robes themselves. According to the tradition, they also do not represent clients after they have left their position. Weinstein's choice is very irregular."
Another lawyer adds that it is unclear how this representation will be conducted, asking rhetorically, "Is Weinstein going to appear in court in Steinmetz's name after having made decisions about putting senior economic figures on trial and closing the cases of others? What influence will his former status have? On his side, why does he need this?"
"What inspired his return"
Other lawyers say there is nothing wrong with what Weinstein is doing. "It's rare, but not outlandish," says a former senior lawyer, who is not especially excited about what Weinstein has chosen to do. "As long as this matter didn't reach his desk as Attorney General, I see no big deal here."
Another senior lawyer adds, "If serving judges can go back to being lawyers before their fellow judges, and it happens, there is no reason to look askance when an Attorney General, who was previously a senior defense lawyer, chooses to return to practice. There is no reason why this door should be closed against him. It will break with the existing tradition of the previous former Attorney Generals, but Yehuda Weinstein, in contrast to his predecessors, was a litigator and an active lawyer before his appointment. The Attorney Generals who preceded him did not hang around courthouses. He was an active fox in court, and represented people suspected and accused of white collar crimes, and that could be what inspired his return."
Adv. Ram Caspi, a friend of Beny Steinmetz, does not understand what all the fuss is about. "I see nothing wrong, unacceptable, or conflict of interest in Weinstein, who left his position a year ago, going back to his profession and engaging in his specialty, provided that he does not handle cases or matters in which he dealt as Attorney General. The fact that previous Attorney Generals, most of whom, although not all, were appointed to the Supreme Court, did not do so neither adds nor detracts, in my opinion. The same is true about someone who served as a state prosecutor or in other senior positions in the State Prosecutor's Office."
Caspi adds, "It's unreasonable to expect heads of public apparatuses, such as the Income Tax Authority, IDF, Mossad, and ISA, to sit idle at home after they leave their positions, and not to engage in their specialties. To take the opposite position will make good professional people stay away from public service."
Criticism of Weinstein as Attorney General
Weinstein finished his term as Attorney General a year ago. In contrast to the glory he won as a leading private defense lawyer in Israeli law and the fact that leading figures in the economy beat a path to his door, Weinstein's term as Attorney General aroused more than a little criticism. His critics regarded him as having gone easy in the fight against government corruption, after Mazuz, his predecessor, acquired the reputation of a fighter against corruption. Almost no senior public figures were tried during Weinstein's term.
On the other hand, Weinstein took upon himself the role of defending the Supreme Court against attacks from rightwing political groups. He successfully defended the public by opposing several settlements in class actions when he believed that the settlements were inconsistent with the public interest. He also had achievements to his credit in combating legal delays in the courts and the State Prosecutor's Office. Weinstein led the reform for finishing cases in a few days, and was of great help in changing the conception of the State Attorney's Office and judges concerning the proper pace of hearings.
In addition, Weinstein supported the establishment of a comptroller agency in the State Prosecutor's Office. Towards the end of his term, he even attained achievements in the fight against governmental corruption, when he decided to put the former Minister of Defense, the late Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, on trial for bribery, money laundering, fraud, breach of trust, and tax violations.
Adv. Weinstein declined to respond.
Steinmetz's spokesman said in response, "Steinmetz and his company, BSGR, are the victim of a global international conspiracy aimed at illegally confiscating BSGR's assets. BSGR is in arbitration proceedings against the Guinea government in this matter, and intends to file multi-billion dollar lawsuits against those parties. Adv. Yehuda Weinstein and Prof. Alan Dershowitz will join a leading international team of lawyers as advisors in order to illuminate the particulars of the affair and bring the initiators of the conspiracy to justice before the appropriate international jurisdiction." Steinmetz's confidants argue that the recruitment of Weinstein and Dershowitz, as well as other senior legal figures, is designed to expose the conspiracy formed against Steinmetz.
Steinmetz was investigated on suspicion of bribing a foreign employee. These suspicions were investigated, and are still being investigated, simultaneously in the US, Switzerland, Guinea, and Israel. According to the suspicions, the mining licenses generated hundreds of millions of dollars in profits for Steinmetz in 2006-2012. Steinmetz is also suspected of money laundering.
A document recently submitted by the Israel Police to the court in the framework of a dispute about the amount of bail Steinmetz is required to deposit in order to ensure his availability for questioning stated, "The evidence and the development of the investigation indicate that the benefit Steinmetz is suspected of having obtained through bribery amounts to $5 billion."
In addition to Steinmetz, the Israel Police National Fraud Unit Lahav 433 also investigated Asher Avidan, a former senior employee of Steinmetz in Guinea. Avidan, who was president of the mining arm of Steinmetz's BSGR holding company for a decade, and previously worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was questioned and released to two weeks of house arrest after depositing bail of NIS 1 million.
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on January 25, 2017
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