Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman's lawyers voiced satisfaction Tuesday over the first day of a hearing aimed at deciding whether he will be indicted, terming the session "businesslike and serious" and saying prosecutors seemed to be listening with "an open mind."
The hearing, which Lieberman himself did not attend, will continue Wednesday.
Tuesday, Lieberman's lawyers spent three and a half hours laying out their arguments to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, State Prosecutor Moshe Lador and other senior prosecution officials, in an effort to convince them that an indictment was unwarranted. Back in April, Weinstein announced that he was considering filing charges of fraud, breach of trust, aggravated fraud, money laundering and witness tampering against the minister; the hearing is the last chance to convince him not to do so.
Giora Adereth, one of Lieberman's lawyers, said afterward that the hearing was conducted in a "businesslike and serious" manner, and that prosecution representatives appeared to listen to his arguments "with an open mind and a willing spirit." Lieberman was also represented by attorneys Yaron Kosteliz, Oded Gazit and Natan Simchony.
Weinstein is expected to make a final decision on whether to indict the foriegn minister, and if so on what charges, within the next few months.
The case against Lieberman revolves around millions of dollars that foreign nationals with business interests in Israel allegedly transferred to companies under his control from 2001-08. During part of this time, he was a private citizen, but for the remainder, he was a Knesset member and minister.
Lieberman went into business in 1997, after resigning as director general of the Prime Minister's Office. For this purpose, he set up or purchased a number of companies, both in Israel and in other countries, including Cyprus and the Virgin Islands.
In 2001, Lieberman was elected to the Knesset, at which point he claims to have sold all his rights in the companies and severed all connection with them. But police suspect that he continued to receive money from these companies even while serving as an MK and minister, and that he in fact continued to control them, via various figureheads who were listed as the new owners.
Lieberman resigned from the Knesset in 2004 and returned to private business, but was elected to parliament once again in 2006.
At Tuesday's hearing, his attorneys argued that he never had any connection with some of the companies and business deals police suspect him of involvement with. All of the other companies at issue were legitimate businesses that earned legitimate income by supplying real services, they said.
They also denied that he continued to run the companies via straw owners after reentering politics. While the companies were indeed owned and run by his friends and relatives, he himself was not involved in their management at all, the lawyers argued.
Finally, they denied that he received any money from these companies during his years as an elected official.
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