Lieberman 'facing 31 years in jail' as corruption probe winds up

Steve Weizman
Monday 03 August 2009 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

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Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman could face up to 31 years in prison on a string of corruption charges Israeli police said yesterday, announcing the end of a long investigation into the far-right politician.

But the country's attorney general must approve the police's recommendations before Lieberman can be charged. It could be weeks or months before a decision is taken. If approval is given, Lieberman may have to stand trial on a slew of corruption charges which include receiving bribes, committing fraud, deception, breach of a trust by a public servant, money laundering, obstruction of justice and tampering with a witness.

The police statement said the investigation began in 2006 and covered events going back to 2000. Lieberman denies wrongdoing and says police have been hounding him for 13 years. In a statement released by his office last night, he maintained that he was the victim of political persecution designed "to cast me out from public activity".

In March, Lieberman petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court about the investigation, which subsequently ordered police to quickly wind up their inquiries. "There was no serious reason to open the investigation against me and if the suspicions had any foundation the investigation would not have lasted more than a decade," he said in a statement.

One of the most controversial politicians in the country, Lieberman's family emigrated to Israel from Moldova in 1978. Among his hotly discussed ideas are the re-drawing of the border between Israel and the West Bank to include large Jewish settlement blocks, and the exclusion from citizenship of Arab Israelis who refuse to sign an oath of loyalty to the state. He first entered the Knesset in 1999 and has held numerous government posts. Lieberman became foreign minister in March after his ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party took third place in a general election. The party has drawn criticism for positions which its opponents disparage as discriminatory toward Israel's Arab minority.

He most recently sparked controversy when he instructed Israeli embassies to circulate a photograph of Adolf Hitler meeting the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Palestinian cleric Haj Amin al-Husseini in 1941, a Palestinian nationalist who led violent campaigns against Jewish immigrants in the 1920s and Thirties.

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