Avigdor Lieberman: Israel’s far-right firebrand quits over fraud charges

Exit weakens Netanyahu coalition ahead of national elections

Jerusalem

Israel’s powerful Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, announced his resignation, a day after an indictment for breach of trust was filed against him by the country’s attorney general, in a move that shakes up the election campaign and heavily effects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election calculations.

Mr Lieberman continued to maintain his innocence and indicated that he could return to politics in time for the national elections in January, if he was cleared or could reach a plea bargain.

“Even though I know I did not break any law ... I have decided to resign from my position as foreign minister and deputy prime minister,” he said. “After 16 years of investigations against me I can end this issue quickly without delay and completely clear my name.”

Mr Lieberman said he made the decision after conferring with his lawyers and his election campaign staff. “I am doing this because I am convinced that Israel’s citizens should be able to go to the polls after this matter has been settled ... and I can continue to serve the state of Israel and Israel’s citizens as part of a strong united leadership that will cope with the security, economic and political challenges it faces,” he said.

He was charged on Thursday with breach of trust in a fraud and money-laundering case that threatens to upend the Israeli political system just a month before parliamentary elections.

The Soviet-born Mr Lieberman is the head of Yisrael Beitenu, an ultranationalist party that is especially popular with immigrants from the former Soviet Union. With a tough-talking message that has questioned the loyalty of Israel’s Arab minority, sharply criticized the Palestinians and confronted Israel’s foreign critics, he has at times alienated Israel’s allies while becoming an influential voice in national politics.

Yisrael Beitenu and Mr Netanyahu’s Likud Party recently joined forces and are running together on a joint list in the 22 January parliamentary elections. Opinion polls have predicted the list would be by far the largest bloc in parliament and would lead a new coalition government.

Mr Netanyahu is heavily favoured to win the premiership, but Mr Lieberman’s departure will have a major impact on negotiations to build a governing coalition. Mr Lieberman is Yisrael Beitenu’s founder and its main attraction for voters. If he were forced to step aside, Mr Netanyahu would be stuck with a list of “leftovers” with little public appeal.

The former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, of the new Movement Party, issued a statement welcoming Mr Lieberman’s departure. “Avigdor Lieberman did the right thing,” she wrote.

Prosecutors have long suspected that Mr Lieberman illicitly received millions of dollars from businessmen and laundered the cash through straw companies in eastern Europe while he was a lawmaker and Cabinet minister. In his decision on Thursday, the Attorney General, Yehuda Weinstein, said the case was not strong enough.

“I am convinced that there is no reasonable chance of a conviction in the offences Lieberman is suspected of and that case should be closed,” Mr Weinstein said in his decision. Instead, Mr Lieberman was charged with the lesser offence of receiving official material related to the investigation against him from the former Israeli ambassador to Belarus.

The ambassador, Zeev Ben-Aryeh,  had received the documents from the Foreign Ministry, which wanted additional information on Mr Lieberman from the Belarus authorities. Mr Ben-Aryeh reached a plea bargain in the case earlier this year.

At a press conference on Thursday night, Mr Lieberman said that when he received the information from the ambassador, he immediately ripped it up and flushed it down the toilet because he knew it was wrong.

The blunt-talking Mr Lieberman, a native of Moldova, has amassed power with support from immigrants from the Soviet Union and other Israelis drawn to his broadsides against Israeli Arabs and doveish groups, as well as the Palestinians and European governments.

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada