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Israeli Foreign Minister Liberman to Resign After Fraud Charge

Dec. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said he will resign in order to clear his name before Jan. 22 elections after the attorney general decided to press charges of fraud and breach of trust.

“After 16 years in which an investigation has been held against me, I want to finish this quickly without any delay and completely clear my name,” Liberman said in a text message to journalists today.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein made his decision yesterday, saying the foreign minister received 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.

Liberman, 54, heads the second-largest party in Prime Minister Benjamin 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. Netanyahu issued a statement by text message yesterday congratulating Liberman on the reduced charges and expressing the hope that he’d be acquitted.

“I know that I committed no crime,” Liberman said in the statement, adding that he decided to resign to allow “the citizens of Israel to go to the ballot box after this issue has been determined, that is, with the legal ruling taken before the elections so that I will be able to continue to serve the state of Israel.”

Poll Lead

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 joint Likud list with Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party was leading in three polls published today. It was set to win between 35 and 38 seats compared with 17 to 20 for its closest competitor, the Labor party, according to the surveys.

Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, said he didn’t think Liberman’s resignation would affect the way the public will vote, especially after his party merged with Likud.

“Most voters who would be voting for Likud Beitenu are still likely to vote for them,” Spyer said in a phone interview. “If it was just Yisrael Beitenu then it would be hugely destructive, but given it is now part of a larger list headed by Likud, there won’t be a huge fallout.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at gackerman@bloomberg.net; Udi Segal in Jerusalem at usegal@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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