FM Liberman tenders resignation over indictment

Likud officials say Liberman will still play central role in campaign, he has not resigned from Knesset.

Avigdor Liberman 521 ok (photo credit: Reuters)
Avigdor Liberman 521 ok
(photo credit: Reuters)
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman resigned on Sunday from his positions as foreign minister and deputy prime minister, due to the pending indictment against him for fraud and breach of public trust.
The resignation will take effect on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
“I am leaving temporarily. I assume this will be as short as possible,” he said, after what he described as four fascinating years in the Foreign Ministry.
Regarding media reports, including those stating he had resigned and was seeking a plea bargain following consultations with his pollster Arthur Finkelstein, Liberman said, “I really hope [the legal proceedings] will be fast. I read in the papers what I didn’t do and what I didn’t say… there’s no intent for a plea bargain, rather to go to court.
I’m not disqualifying any options, but first to go to court, that is the right and correct path.”
“Two-hundred percent I didn’t talk with Finkelstein about resigning and not about the legal proceedings,” he continued.
Upon his announcement of his intent to resign on Friday, media reports – including from a source close to Liberman who spoke to The Jerusalem Post – surfaced saying his lawyers claimed they and state attorneys would arrive at a quick plea bargain that would allow him to jump right into a job as a minister in the new government.
The Justice Ministry, on the other hand, made no mention of any discussion regarding a plea bargain. Appearing ready to move forward with the case, the ministry spokesman noted only that “the indictment is ready to be filed. To the extent that the defense requests that the court speed up the case, the State Attorney’s Office will consent to the request.”
Pressed over whether it would be possible to complete the trial in only a few months – a situation that could, in the best-case scenario for Liberman, allow him to return to a ministerial position when the new government is formed – the spokesman refused to commit to any timeline, saying that it would “depend on the court’s decisions.”
It is difficult, but not impossible, to move a trial at such breakneck speed. Former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s first corruption trial, for example, took around four years.
No one expects Liberman’s case to take that long, since the facts are simpler, there are far fewer documents to gather in connection to the case and much of the background for the case has been effectively proven in the conviction of former ambassador Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh, who is at the center of the case.
Still, the prosecution will need to call witnesses from the Foreign Ministry regarding Ben- Aryeh’s promotions and it is unclear how long that will take and if the process can be concluded in only a few months.
Legally, if there is no plea bargain and no conclusion to the trial before the next government is formed, Liberman might be able to still become a minister, but only if both the High Court of Justice and the attorney-general choose not to disqualify him.
Regarding his emotional state and concerns, Liberman said that he was “not worried personally.”
“I only worry for the voters,” he stated, referencing what he said were 400,000 people who voted for Yisrael Beytenu in the last election.
The party leader added that the “cup is half full, with more time to work on the campaign” and finished with the same phrase he used hours before it was announced that he would be indicted – “Everything is the garden of Eden,” meaning that everything is fine.
Likud officials said that they will not hide Liberman in the campaign and that he will play a central role. They added that they appreciated his resignation because it enables the election to return to key diplomatic and security issues rather than focusing on him.
“Liberman is an electorate asset because of his image as a leader and a doer,” a Likud official said. “Now that he is not a minister, he will have more time for political rallies to help the party gain support and get out the vote.”
Liberman announced Friday that he would be stepping down, hours after Meretz filed a petition asking the High Court of Justice to order his resignation.
In a statement published by his office, Liberman said his legal counsel advised him that he did not have to resign. Nonetheless, he said he would do so in order to fight the charges against him, thereby enabling him to serve in the next government if exonerated.
Liberman has denied all wrongdoing and called for expedited legal proceedings.
To that end, Liberman said he would immediately drop his parliamentary immunity, “so that after 16 years during which investigations have been carried out against me, I can conclude this matter quickly without delay and clear my name.”
“I am also doing this because I am convinced Israeli citizens have the right to go to the polls with this matter already having been decided,” he said, in the hope that the legal proceedings against him would be concluded before the January 22 election.
Liberman added that he hopes he will be able to continue serving Israel “as part of a strong and united leadership in order to face the security, diplomatic and economic challenges that the State of Israel is facing.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke with Liberman on Friday afternoon ahead of his resignation announcement, telling the outgoing foreign minister that he hopes he will “prove his innocence as quickly as possible” and speedily return to a senior position in the government.
A source in the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu would retain the title of foreign minister until the next government is formed, dispelling rumors that a Likud minister such as Vice Premier Silvan Shalom or Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor would be given the post.
According to Israeli constitutional processes, when a minister resigns, his deputy automatically resigns with him.
Netanyahu and Liberman both want Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon to remain in his post, so Netanyahu is expected to ask the Knesset to approve Ayalon’s reappointment.
Liberman’s decision follows Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein’s surprise announcement on Thursday that he will charge the foreign minister not only with breach of trust, but also with fraud, in a 2008 case involving obstruction of justice by former ambassador to Belarus Ben-Aryeh.
It was widely predicted that Liberman would be charged with breach of trust for allegedly not revealing that Ben-Aryeh had leaked information to him regarding a separate investigation against him when he visited the ambassador in Belarus in 2008. But the fraud charge for allegedly helping Ben-Aryeh advance to two additional positions in the Foreign Ministry as “payment” for his leaking of classified information to Liberman, came as a surprise.
At the same time, Weinstein decided to close the “main” case against Liberman, regarding wider and more serious allegations of money laundering of millions of dollars, fraud and other allegations from 2001 to 2008.
Reacting to Liberman’s resignation, a Meretz spokesman said the party would withdraw its petition once the resignation takes effect.Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.