The state prosecution will announce on Thursday whether or not it will indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on fraud, obstruction of justice and money laundering charges, the Justice Ministry said in a statement Wednesday evening.
The decision comes after years of investigations and speculations over the fate of Yisrael Beytenu’s chairman, and will resolve a major issue that has been overshadowing Israel’s political scene ahead of the January 22 elections.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced that he planned to indict Liberman, subject to a hearing, more than a year ago, and has since then held several hearings with his lawyers. In the beginning of November, the state told the High Court it would reach a final decision within a month.
The notification came in response to a court petition by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel demanding that the Attorney General and the State Attorney’s Office decide whether they will press charges before or after the elections.
Liberman has been accused of establishing several shell companies that laundered millions of dollars, much of which made its way into his pockets, for which he could face charges of fraud and money laundering. According to the case, between 1999 and 2006, while Liberman held public office, millions of shekels were transferred to him and his daughter by people in Israel and abroad.
Liberman is also accused of breach of trust for receiving classified Justice Ministry documents related to his investigation from former ambassador to Belarus, Ze’ev Ben Aryeh.
In recent weeks, reports have leaked that the prosecution plans to drop the main charges and settle for an indictment on the breach of trust case alone. According to a Channel 2 report on Wednesday night, the prosecution decided to drop the more substantial part of the case after a key witness intimated that she would withdraw her testimony and take the stand in favor of Liberman. Other potential witnesses have either died since the launch of the investigation or have refused to testify.
Still, Channel 2 claimed Liberman would be indicted on a more minor charge relating to Ben Aryeh, and that he would have to resign as foreign minister. Other media reports late Wednesday said much the same, but it was stressed that they were speculative and there was no official confirmation.
Police began investigating Liberman in 2006 and in 2008 recommended an indictment following a review of evidence that dated back more than a decade.
Two weeks ago, State Attorney Moshe Lador addressed the delay in Liberman’s case, saying “in corruption cases it is often difficult to obtain evidence and gather witnesses.” He said in retrospect that it was unacceptable for proceedings to have taken so long.
Liberman denies the allegations, claiming they constitute a political witch-hunt, and points to the extended period of the investigation as proof that there is no real evidence against him. He has repeatedly said that he would resign from the Knesset if indicted.