Liberman to submit formal resignation on Sunday

FM maintains he didn’t have to quit but wants to put legal troubles behind him ahead of January’s Knesset elections

Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Liberman will submit his resignation from the government on Sunday, reported Israel Radio.

He anounced on Friday that he would be stepping down as foreign minister to battle charges of fraud and breach of trust.

The foreign minister said Friday that he and his lawyers believe he was not legally required to resign, but that he wanted to put his legal troubles behind him quickly, ideally before the January 22 elections. Liberman maintains he is innocent of all charges.

Political pundits on Israel’s Channel 2 News indicated that Liberman was wary of potential intervention into the matter of his resignation by the High Court of Justice.

On Friday, Meretz party chief Zahava Gal-On submitted a petition to the High Court, asking for an order forcing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fire Liberman in light of the imminent indictment.

According to Channel 2’s Amnon Abramovitch, the foreign minister and his legal advisers feared that a negative High Court ruling, including potentially detrimental language to his case, would influence subsequent proceedings against Liberman in the lower courts.

Speaking Thursday at an event for Yisrael Beytenu activists that had been scheduled before the news of the indictment broke, party chief Liberman said he had asked the Knesset to lift his immunity from prosecution in order that the case could proceed rapidly.

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

He is being charged with having received classified Justice Ministry documents that related to his investigation from the former ambassador to Belarus, Ze’ev Ben Aryeh. Liberman then allegedly sought to reward Ben Aryeh for helping him by having Ben Aryeh appointed to a second ambassadorship — an appointment that did not ultimately occur.

Ron Friedman contributed to this report.

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