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Liberman hints: If convicted, I will leave politics
By GIL HOFFMAN AND JEREMY SHARON
01/15/2013
Former FM responds to his party's number-two politician Yair Shamir, who recently called on any convicted politician to resign.
 
Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman took a major risk Monday when he hinted in an Army Radio interview that if he is convicted in the Belarus Ambassador Affair, he will leave politics.

The Yisrael Beytenu leader was responding to a January 4 statement made by his No. 2 in the party, Yair Shamir, that if he is convicted he must “make way for someone who did not break the law.”

Liberman said he was not upset at Shamir and that he would be a senior minister.

“I definitely agree with [Shamir],” Liberman said.

“There have to be very clear norms. I have no problem with such a statement. I am sure that at the end of the legal process I will be found innocent.”

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When asked if he will leave politics if he is convicted, Liberman said: “If the charges are deemed to have moral turpitude, a man has to reach conclusions.”

Legally, if the charges bear moral turpitude, Liberman would have to leave politics for seven years. But in saying he agreed with Shamir, who made no mention of moral turpitude, Liberman committed himself to leaving even due to a minor conviction.

Liberman was indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust for failing to report former Israeli ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh for leaking information to him regarding a money laundering investigation against him when he was foreign minister. He is accused of helping Ben-Aryeh obtain a promotion due to the leak.

Liberman’s trial will not begin until after the election and could take an extended period of time. During the trial, he cannot be appointed a cabinet minister, so he is expected to instead chair the prestigious Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee until the end of legal proceedings.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has promised to keep the Foreign Ministry portfolio vacant until Liberman is found innocent. But a more likely scenario is that Netanyahu will give away the Foreign Ministry and tell Liberman he can become finance minister instead in June 2014, when Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin is expected to be elected president and current Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz is expected to become speaker.

Liberman has publicly declared what portfolios his party will demand, and has said he would prefer a coalition without Shas. He wrote an open letter on Facebook to joint Shas leader Arye Deri on Monday morning, accusing Deri of seeking to join the Center-Left parties in blocking Netanyahu from forming a new government.

He claimed that Deri’s direct appeal to Netanyahu to enter into coalition negotiations on Saturday night was a ploy designed to prepare the ground for Shas to join with Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich and the other Center-Left parties.

“Your public call was the preparation of an alibi to go against the prime minister and against the national camp,” Liberman wrote, adding that Deri “knows well” that candidates for prime minister do not enter into coalition negotiations before they have been elected.

In response, Deri said Liberman should “stop with the stories and spin,” and claimed that the Yisrael Beytenu leader had finalized his entry into government with Netanyahu in 2009 before the elections took place, and that Netanyahu had done the same thing with Shas.
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