Foreign minister in Israel charged with breach of trust

Fri, Dec 14, 2012, 00:00

Avigdor Lieberman says he will consult his lawyers over whether to resign as foreign minister after Israel’s attorney general decided to charge him with fraud and breach of trust.

Mr Lieberman said of the decision, which came only five weeks before Israel’s general election, that according to legal advice, there was no obligation to resign.

The decision by attorney general Yehuda Weinstein came after a six-year investigation into claims that the controversial leader of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party received millions of euros between 2001- 2008 when he served as a Knesset member and then as a minister.

All the major corruption and fraud allegations have been dropped, but Mr Lieberman will be charged with working to promote the former Israeli ambassador to Belarus, Ze’ev Ben Arieh, without disclosing the fact that the latter had illegally leaked information to Mr Lieberman about an investigation against him.

Even though the serious corruption charges were dropped, Mr Weinstein made it clear that suspicions remained.

“Mr Lieberman cloaked his actions with a complex web of interrelated schemes . . . in order to allow him to continue in business and enjoy the fruits thereof during his public ministry,” he wrote.

Anti-corruption groups, as well as left-wing and centrist parties, vowed to petition the high court to force Mr Lieberman to resign as foreign minister. Mr Lieberman’s lawyers said they believed he could stay in office, citing a supreme court precedent that indicated that a senior minister facing relatively minor charges need not resign.

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu congratulated Mr Lieberman yesterday on the fact that the most severe accusations against him had been dropped.

“I believe in Israel’s legal system and respect it,” he said. “The right that it grants any Israeli citizen to defend himself also extends to Minister Lieberman, and I hope for him that he’ll be able to prove that he’s also innocent regarding the only case that remains.”

Only time will tell if these dramatic developments will have a long-term impact on Mr Lieberman’s political career.

Last month his party joined Mr Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party to form a joint list ahead of January elections. Mr Lieberman received the number two slot, while polls showed his party would be the largest by far in the next Knesset.