Avigdor Lieberman: Hard-right Israeli minister's fate in balance after aides arrested for fraud

Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to benefit from Mr Lieberman’s woes

The future of Israel’s hard-right Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who had been poised to become kingmaker in the upcoming election, is in doubt after police disclosed some of his closest confidants are suspects in what appears to be one of the largest corruption scandals in Israeli history.

Analysts believe that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to benefit from Mr Lieberman’s woes by picking up right-wing voters turned off by the fraud and that the scandal will probably enhance the premier’s chances of being re-elected in the March polling.

In advance of the weekend, police extended the arrests of some 30 suspects, including David Godowsky, the chief of staff of Mr Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party. The Deputy Interior Minister, Faina Kirshenbaum, secretary-general of Yisrael Beiteinu and considered to be Mr Lieberman’s right-hand woman, was not arrested because of parliamentary immunity but was reportedly questioned for seven hours on Thursday.

Police believe Ms Kirshenbaum, like Mr Lieberman an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, is the key player in suspected misuse of government funds in exchange for kickbacks and appointments tainted by nepotism. Other allegations against members of Mr Lieberman’s party include,  disrupting the police investigation and destroying documents. Others have been arrested for fixing tenders and receiving bribes. Mr Lieberman, who has a long history of fighting corruption charges, has not been implicated in this scandal.

Yisrael Beiteinu issued a statement saying it is confident in the innocence of the suspects and claiming that the arrests and investigations are aimed at subverting its electoral prospects. It also that said police had publicised investigations during previous campaigns. “The fact that this was done once again during elections points to the intention to damage Yisrael Beiteinu,’’ it said.

The police deny this. The Times of Israel quoted the force as saying that a year-long secret investigation, that went public on Wednesday, revealed a “calculated method wherein the suspects and their representatives unlawfully transferred, using their powers as public officials, large sums of public funds to bodies and authorities in exchange for generous benefits for them or their associates’.’ Ms Kirshenbaum denied any wrongdoing.

“On the face of it, this looks like good news for Netanyahu because Lieberman said that this time he might not support him,’’ said Leslie Susser, diplomatic editor of The Jerusalem Report. ‘’If Yisrael Beitenu is smaller it is less of a thorn in Netanyahu’s side.”

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