Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, among Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most influential allies, will be indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decided to press charges against Liberman today for receiving confidential information on a decade-long police investigation against him from the former ambassador to Belarus, who pleaded guilty to the charge in May, according to an e-mailed Justice Ministry statement. Prosecutors won’t press money-laundering charges against the foreign minister, which they earlier labeled the central part of the investigation, Weinstein said.
“According to the legal advice I received, I’m not obligated to resign,” Liberman said in remarks to party loyalists in Tel Aviv broadcast by Channel 2 television tonight. “I want this trial to be as quick as possible.”
Liberman, 54, heads the second-largest party in Netanyahu’s Likud-led coalition government and struck an agreement with the prime minister to run on a joint ticket in next month’s election. While the Moldovan-born foreign minister had previously said he’d resign if indicted, political supporters including Education Minister Gideon Saar said Weinstein’s decision focused on the most marginal charges and he should remain in the government. Netanyahu issued a statement by text message congratulating Liberman on the reduced charges and expressing the hope that he’d be acquitted.
Liberman has previously denied any wrongdoing and described the allegations as nonsense.
The Labor Party, among other political opponents, demanded that Liberman immediately resign, saying the foreign minister’s “behavior, both from a criminal and moral viewpoint, endangers Israeli democracy.”
Liberman lives in a West Bank settlement and has been outspoken about his policy disagreements with Netanyahu even though they remain close political allies. He told the United Nations General Assembly last year that he supported an “intermediate” accord with the Palestinians at a time when the prime minister was seeking to negotiate a final peace agreement.
The former ambassador, Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh, struck a plea agreement and was sentenced to four months of community service for giving Liberman details about the money-laundering investigation that police started in 2001.
Weinstein said the decision to indict the foreign minister stemmed from Liberman’s “severe conflict of interest between his obligations to the public and as foreign minister and head of the nation’s foreign service and his feelings of personal responsibility to Ben-Aryeh, who acted on his behalf in passing along the secret information.”
The attorney-general closed the investigation against Liberman because the difficulty of obtaining evidence in other countries made it clear there was little chance of obtaining a conviction. He made no judgment about whether the foreign minister should resign, saying “the public will read and decide.”
In last year’s draft indictment, Weinstein said the central accusations relate to “transferred funds in the millions of dollars, whose source was private businessmen, that were received from 2001-2008 in corporations under his control during the period when he served in the Knesset and was a government minister.”