Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman faces
indictment for fraud and breach of trust for allegedly receiving
classified information from a former ambassador to Belarus on an
investigation against him, the nation's top prosecutor said Thursday.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein will drop his main case against the foreign minister, also involving fraud and breach of trust, as well as money-laundering. Lack of clear-cut evidence meant he would not be prosecuted for these alleged offences, although Weinstein said a "close scrutiny" of the evidence could not completely do away with suspicions of wrongdoing.
The initial case involves allegations that Lieberman received millions of dollars from private business people through sham companies between 2001 and 2008, while he was a member of parliament and cabinet minister, but before he took up his present ministerial portfolio.
According to the new indictment, ambassador Ze'ev Ben-Ariyeh had shown Lieberman information about the investigation against him being conducted in Belarus. Lieberman subsequently promoted Ben-Ariyeh, without revealing that the envoy had shown him the information.
Lieberman, in his first reaction to the pending indictment, left open the question of whether he would resign, as opposition politicians are calling on him to do.
He had said he would quit if indicted, but on Thursday said he would consult with his lawyers before deciding. His attorneys had initially said that indictment ultimately proposed against their client was not serious enough to warrant resignation.
Opposition parliamentarians have threatened to go to court to get Lieberman to step down.
Addressing activists of his Yisrael Beteinu party, Lieberman denied the charges.
Weinstein's decision wraps up a lengthy investigation against Lieberman, whose party recently signed a deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party to run jointly in the January 22 elections.
According to pre-election polls, the alliance is expected to emerge as the largest faction in parliament.
Netanyahu congratulated Lieberman on having the main charges against him dropped, said he respected the legal system, and expressed hope that the foreign minister would prove his innocence in the remaining case.
Weinstein announced more than one year ago that he planned to indict Lieberman, subject to a hearing. He has since held several sessions with Lieberman's lawyers, and in November said the indictment would come within one month.
Lieberman, who immigrated to Israel from Moldova in 1978, has been foreign minister since 2008.
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