Liberman says he’ll leave politics if convicted

Embattled Yisrael Beytenu head, charged with fraud, agrees with statement of party’s No. 2 that convicted MKs should resign

Danny Ayalon (left) and Avigdor Liberman, at a Knesset event in February 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Danny Ayalon (left) and Avigdor Liberman, at a Knesset event in February 2012 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman said on Monday that if convicted on fraud and breach of trust charges he will resign from political life, even if not forced out by the law.

In an interview with Army Radio, the embattled head of the Yisrael Beytenu party said he agreed with the recent statements of Yair Shamir, the number 2 on his party’s list, who said that Liberman must leave public life if convicted of criminal offenses.

“Even if there is no [issue of] moral turpitude, I will not continue in politics. There must be clear norms,” Liberman said Monday, quickly adding, “I am sure I will be cleared in the end.”

Liberman stepped down as foreign minister on December 14, after the state attorney announced his intention to file an indictment against him over what then appeared to be relatively minor allegations of breach of trust and fraud.

Under Israeli law, a politician can be forced from public service for years if their conviction carries moral turpitude plus a jail or community service sentence.

Last week, Shamir, the son of former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, said his boss should resign if he is found guilty, no matter the sentence.

“A public official who faltered while in public service must make way for those who have not. Whether the offense carries the designation of ‘moral turpitude’ or not is irrelevant,” said Shamir, a former aviation industry executive.

Saying that Shamir will “hold a senior position in the Likud-Beytenu government,” Liberman added that he had no problem with his number 2’s statement because he was sure he would be acquitted.

The impending charges stem from an incident in which Liberman allegedly received classified Justice Ministry documents in an envelope from former ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben Aryeh, related to a separate investigation into fraud and money-laundering charges.

Those charges were dropped earlier in December due to lack of evidence.

On December 30, Liberman was indicted on sharpened charges, in which Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon was expected to be the main witness.

According to the indictment, while Liberman served as foreign minister, he explicitly instructed Ayalon to push the ministry’s appointments committee to name Ze’ev Ben Aryeh as ambassador to Latvia; Ayalon did not know Ben Aryeh personally.

Ayalon was unceremoniously omitted from Yisrael Beytenu’s Knesset election roster in early December, though a reason was never made public.

Liberman has denied rewarding Ben Aryeh in any way, noting that the ambassador was “head and shoulders” above other candidates for a subsequent job as ambassador to Latvia and that it would have been wrong to punish Ben Aryeh over the envelope incident by seeking to block such an appointment.

The Yisrael Beytenu party head expressed several times after he stepped down as foreign minister that he hoped to have the case against him closed in time for the upcoming elections on January 22.

The party is running a joint list with the ruling Likud party, with Liberman holding the second slot on the slate after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In Monday morning’s interview, Liberman expressed confidence that the merged Likud-Beytenu party will win at least 40 seats in the January 22 elections, despite the fact several polls have indicated somewhere in the mid-30s.

“I have stopped taking the polls seriously,” Liberman said. “I feel that these polls have become part of the campaign and that the media has changed from covering the elections to being an active part of them.”

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