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Lieberman After Indictment: Will Consult Lawyers Over Possible Resignation

In the past, foreign minister said he would only resign if indicted in major case, which AG closed on Thursday; Lieberman: I have been persecuted for 16 years.

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Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman addressed his indictment by Israel's attorney general on Thursday evening, saying he will decide whether to resign according to the advice of my lawyers and according to the effectit will have on my voters.

Lieberman said he has been persecuted for the last 16 years as a target of the State Prosecutor. Clarifying the duration of the investigation, which was rumored at anywhere from three years to 12 years, Lieberman said: "The truth is that the investigation started the second week of July 1996; from then until today, it has been one prolonged investigation and there wasn’t one day that I wasn't a target of intelligence."

Earlier on Thursday, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced his decision to indict Lieberman for breach of trust for allegedly working to promote former ambassador to Belarus Ze'ev Ben Aryeh without reporting that Ben Aryeh had given Lieberman information about the investigation against him being conducted in Belarus.

Weinstein, however, also announced his decision to close the major case against Lieberman, which involves allegations of money-laundering, fraud, and breach of trust, on suspicion he received millions of dollars from international tycoons like Martin Schlaff and Mikhail Chernoy through foreign companies while he was serving in public positions.

Speaking Thursday about the affair itself, Lieberman explained that in 2008, while in the opposition he went as an MK to an event in Belarus, he met with the ambassador, Ze'ev Ben Aryeh upon the envoy's request. "He gave me an envelope and asked me to look at it. At first after opening it, I didn't understand what I was looking at, then I realized and said to him: 'Don't fool around' and then I threw it into the toilet and flushed." Since then, Lieberman insists, he has forgotten about it.

The Basic Law regarding positions in government contains a provision barring individuals who have been convicted of a crime that meets certain specified criteria from being appointed as ministers, but this is not the case with Lieberman, who is a serving cabinet member. The courts, however, have ruled that if a sitting cabinet member is indicted for what is deemed "serious offenses," he or she must either resign or be dismissed by the prime minister.

The courts have yet to define what constitutes a "serious offense," so it is not clear if Lieberman should step down. Prior allegations against cabinet members have involved accusations of acts whose severity was clear, such as bribery.
If the Knesset approves Lieberman's appointment as a cabinet minister following the January 22 election, any court reviewing the legality of the appointment would presumably give a large degree of deference to the Knesset's decision.

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Avigdor Lieberman at an Yisrael Beiteinu conference in Eilat, April 23, 2012.Credit: Emil Salman

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