Indictment against Lieberman expected by end of week

Foreign minister faces allegations of fraud, breach of trust, money laundering and obstruction of justice.

By RON FRIEDMAN, GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
April 11, 2011 20:40
3 minute read.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

lieberman_521. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein is expected to file an indictment against Foreign Minister and Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman by the end of the week, and perhaps as soon as Tuesday.

The indictment, which is subject to a hearing for Lieberman, is expected to include charges of fraud, breach of trust, money-laundering and obstruction of justice.

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A Lieberman indictment has been expected for months, with the police recommending that he be charged more than 18 months ago.

At first the indictment was supposed to be filed by the end of March, but later the Attorney-General’s Office postponed it, saying that it still had to be fine-tuned, but pledging that it would be filed before Pessah.

According to a Justice Ministry official, Weinstein has been holding high-level discussions over the indictment with members of his staff during the past few weeks, to decide which charges to file against Lieberman.

In February, it was decided to drop the charge of accepting bribes from the charge sheet because of the difficulty in subpoenaing witnesses, many of whom live abroad, to testify in a trial. Another challenge in proving bribery charges is the difficulty in obtaining physical evidence of the receiver’s intent to commit the offense.



The most recent investigation into Lieberman began in 2006. On August 2, 2009, police handed over the evidence it had gathered on the Lieberman investigation to the state prosecution with a recommendation to indict him.

Police suspect that Lieberman obtained NIS 10 million, which was funneled through six to eight straw companies. These acts allegedly occurred while he served as transportation minister, national infrastructures minister and strategic affairs minister.

Lieberman is also suspected of having received an illegal tip-off from then-ambassador to Belarus Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh in 2008, and allowing him to subvert the investigation process under way at that time. Police were investigating allegations that Lieberman had accepted bribes and failed to report income to the tax authorities.

Sources close to Lieberman said he believed it was better for him to face his hearing as a senior minister and not as an opposition MK, and that he would not topple a right-wing government, because it could alienate his political base.

In an interview with Israel Radio on Monday, Lieberman reiterated that his party would not instigate a coalition crisis.

“I hate to disappoint you, but I have no intention of leaving the government,” he said. “We will achieve what the Likud promised us in the coalition agreement, without threats and crises.”

Lieberman’s spokesman declined to comment, saying he would only respond after hearing about an indictment from Weinstein and not from the media.

Lieberman has stated publicly on several occasions that if Weinstein recommended an indictment, he would quit his posts as foreign minister and Israel Beiteinu leader, but only after a hearing, that he said might not take place for several months. He might also choose to forgo a hearing, not wishing to disclose his defense strategy ahead of a trial.

Lieberman has insisted repeatedly that he would keep Israel Beiteinu in the coalition. The party will hold a convention on Wednesday in which it will demand the toppling of the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, the man who will likely be in charge of prosecuting Lieberman’s case was chosen on Monday after an internal selection committee chose Raz Nizri as the new deputy attorney-general for criminal cases.

Nizri, who served as senior assistant to Weinstein, as well as under the two former attorneys-general, Menahem Mazuz and Elyakim Rubinstein, was selected from 14 candidates for the job.

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