38 Days Ahead of Elections |

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to Resign Over Indictment Decision

AG to indict Lieberman on charges of fraud and breach of trust; Lieberman suggests he will try to secure plea bargain before elections; top officials in Likud Beiteinu: Lieberman to remain number 2 on joint ticket, will run in elections; Netanyahu tells Lieberman he hopes he proves his innocence and returns quickly to government.

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Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced Friday that he plans to resign from his position, following the Attorney General's decision to indict him on charges of fraud and breach of trust.

Lieberman suggested that he will try to secure a plea bargain before the upcoming elections in January, and added that he made the decision following deliberations with his lawyers, despite the fact that he was told he was not obligated to resign from his position as foreign minister.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Lieberman on Friday, and told him that he hoped he would prove his innocence soon, even in the one case that remains on the agenda, and that he will quickly return to serving in a senior government position.

Senior officials in Likud Beiteinu stressed that Lieberman will remain number two on the joint ticket, and will still run in the elections for the 19th Knesset. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon will likely replace Lieberman until the elections in January. If the Lieberman case would not be decided on until the elections, Yair Shamir will be the senior minister on the Yisrael Beiteinu list.

"Even though I know I did not commit any crime I decided to resign from my post as foreign minister and deputy prime minister and remove my immunity," Lieberman announced Friday. "Following 16 years of investigations against me, I will now be able to end this matter quickly and without delays, and finally clear my name."

"I am doing this also because I believe that the citizens of Israel are entitled to go to the polls after the matter has been decided on, that is to say, that a legal ruling will be decided on before the elections and this way I will be able to continue to serve the state of Israel and its citizens as part of a strong, united leadership that would tackle the security, diplomatic, and economic challenges facing Israel."

Labor Party chair Shelly Yacimovich responded to the announcement Friday, saying, "This was obvious. We were left with a bad taste in our mouths from the prime minister's shameful congratulations to his number two Lieberman last night after the (attorney general's) decision to indict him. This is a serious cultural decline."

The Hatnuah party, headed by former opposition leader Tzipi Livni said in response: "Avigdor Lieberman did what was right and what was called for," and wished him a speedy trial.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Thursday said he was closing the main case against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, concluding a 12-year investigation into allegations of money laundering and fraud. However, Weinstein said he would indict Lieberman on lesser charges of fraud and breach of trust, in the case concerning Israel's former ambassador to Belarus.

Several political parties called on Lieberman to resign since Thursday.

The Labor Party stated that Lieberman's conduct, both legally and morally, "endangered and still endangers Israeli democracy and the rule of law."

"I won't join a government with someone sitting on the defendant's bench, who has been indicted," said Yacimovich on Friday.

"I cannot believe that a person can sit on the defendant's bench, and serve as a minister in the government at the same time," continued Yacimovich.

Meretz party chairperson Zahava Gal-On on Friday petitioned the High Court of Justice to order Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to step down, as he is set to be indicted for breach of trust over an incident involving Israel's former ambassador to Belarus, Ze'ev Ben Aryeh.

Avigdor Lieberman. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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