he state prosecution announced on Thursday that it would indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on breach of trust and fraud charges, but that the major claims of obstruction of justice and money laundering would be dropped.
The question now is whether Liberman will be forced to step down over the indictment. Liberman reportedly said two years ago that he would quit if he was charged in the main case, which involved overseas shell companies. An Israel Radio analyst said it was likely Liberman would leave office ahead of upcoming elections.
Liberman was reportedly to hold a press conference at 8 p.m. Thursday evening.
Despite his decision not to press charges, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein lashed out against the foreign minister because “close scrutiny of the evidence” could not completely dispel suspicions of wrongdoing, saying that Liberman cloaked his actions with “a complex web of interrelated schemes… in order to allow him to continue in business and enjoy the fruits thereof during his public ministry.”
The decision came after years of investigations and speculations over the fate of Yisrael Beytenu’s chairman, and will resolve a major issue that has been overshadowing Israel’s political scene ahead of the January 22 elections.
It is not clear if Liberman can still run for office in next month’s elections with the indictment hanging over him.
Weinstein announced that he planned to indict Liberman, subject to a hearing, more than a year ago, and has since then held several hearings with his lawyers. In the beginning of November, the state told the High Court it would reach a final decision within a month.
The notification came in response to a court petition by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel demanding that the Attorney General and the State Attorney’s Office decide whether they will press charges before or after the elections.
Liberman had been accused of establishing several shell companies that laundered millions of dollars, much of which made its way into his pockets, for which he could have faced charges of fraud and money laundering. According to the case, between 1999 and 2006, while Liberman held public office, millions of shekels were transferred to him and his daughter by people in Israel and abroad.
Liberman was instead indicted on breach of trust and fraud charges for receiving classified Justice Ministry documents related to his investigation from former ambassador to Belarus, Ze’ev Ben Aryeh.
In recent weeks, reports leaked that the prosecution plans to drop the main charges and settle for an indictment on the breach of trust case alone.
According to a Channel 2 report on Wednesday night, the prosecution decided to drop the more substantial part of the case after a key witness intimated that she would withdraw her testimony and take the stand in favor of Liberman. Other potential witnesses have either died since the launch of the investigation or have refused to testify.
Police began investigating Liberman in 2006 and in 2008 recommended an indictment following a review of evidence that dated back more than a decade.
Two weeks ago, State Attorney Moshe Lador addressed the delay in Liberman’s case, saying “in corruption cases it is often difficult to obtain evidence and gather witnesses.” He said in retrospect that it was unacceptable for proceedings to have taken so long.
Liberman denies the allegations, claiming they constitute a political witch hunt, and points to the extended period of the investigation as proof that there is no real evidence against him. He has repeatedly said he would resign from the Knesset if indicted.
Source: Times Of Israel