Avigdor Liberman resigns as FM to battle breach of trust charge

Departure to take effect Tuesday; Yisrael Beytenu head wants a quick trial, says he won’t take a plea bargain

Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman formally submitted his resignation from the government to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday morning, ending a turbulent term as the country’s top diplomat.

Liberman announced he would be leaving the government on Friday, a day after being informed he would be indicted on fraud and breach of trust charges connected to a former Israeli diplomat in Belarus. A more serious investigation into allegations that he funneled money through shell companies was dropped for lack of evidence.

“There were ups and downs. It was a very exciting time and I leave only temporarily,” Liberman said in a statement.

Liberman’s resignation comes as he faces charges of having received, from the former ambassador to Belarus, Ze’ev Ben Aryeh, classified Justice Ministry documents that related to his investigation. Liberman then allegedly sought to reward Ben Aryeh for his help by having Ben Aryeh appointed to a second ambassadorship — an appointment that did not ultimately occur.

Liberman, who has maintained his innocence in the affair, said he did not intend to seek a plea bargain, but “to go to court.” Although not legally required to resign, Liberman said on Friday that by doing so he could quickly clear his name and return to politics in time for the January 22 general election.

The resignation is to take effect on Tuesday at 10 a.m.

His responsibilities as foreign minister will apparently be handled for now by Netanyahu, who on Friday said he hoped Liberman would soon be absolved and would return to take a senior ministerial position in the next government.

Liberman’s time as foreign minister was marked by a sharp downgrading of ties with regional allies Turkey and Egypt and a fall-off in ties with Western Europe. Originally from Moldova, Liberman was seen as strengthening ties with a number of Eastern European countries.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced Thursday that he would indict Liberman in the long-simmering case, but declined to pursue more serious charges of money laundering that allegedly took place while Liberman held public office because the prosecution was not convinced that it could secure a conviction.

Liberman said he had been under investigation for 16 years, since taking office as Netanyahu’s chief of staff during his first term in 1996.

He eventually left to form the secular-nationalist Yisrael Beytenu party, which has focused on representing Russian-speakers’ interests. In 2009, the party became the third largest in the Knesset.

In January, Yisrael Beytenu will run on a joint list with Netanyahu’s Likud. Liberman is No.2 on the joint list. He apparently plans to lead his party in the election campaign and take up his Knesset seat despite his ministerial resignation, and there is no legal impediment to his doing so.

AP contributed to this report.

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