- Avigdor Lieberman - corruption - Israel - justice
Israel mulls corruption charges against Lieberman
Israel's attorney general is considering charging Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman with corruption, a move that could force the hawkish minister to resign and leave the patchwork coalition government in disarray.
AFP - The Israeli attorney general is mulling criminal charges against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman over a range of graft allegations, the justice ministry said on Wednesday.
"The offences on which his being brought to trial is being considered are fraud, breach of trust, receiving something by deception, money-laundering and tampering with a witness," a statement said.
It said the allegations involved "millions of dollars" and referred to the period from 2001 to 2008 while Lieberman served as a member of parliament and as minister for strategic affairs.
It said a final decision on whether to press charges would be taken only after Lieberman had had an opportunity to respond to the allegations at a hearing with the attorney general.
In a speech to members of his ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party on Wednesday night Lieberman denied any wrongdoing and said he welcomed the chance to clear his name in court after years of allegations and investigations.
"After 15 years I will at last be given the opportunity to prove that I always behaved in accordance with the law," he said to applause. "As you know, with me my word is my bond."
His party is the second-largest in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government after the premier's Likud and the third-largest in parliament.
He has pledged in the past to step down as both a minister and MP if he is charged, but it is unclear what the consequences might be for the coalition.
Lieberman has faced several investigations since 1996 on a number of fraud and corruption allegations but has so far never been charged.
Earlier this month, police recommended charging Lieberman, 52, and one of his diplomats in a fresh probe.
They suspect that Israel's former ambassador to Belarus, Zeev Ben Arieh, had passed Lieberman a confidential document related to another investigation into the foreign minister.
Lieberman is also suspected of receiving about $2.5 million (1.7 million euros) in illegal campaign donations through bank accounts opened by his daughter in Cyprus.
He denies any wrongdoing and says the police investigations are politically motivated.
Lieberman, a Soviet-born former bouncer, has long courted controversy with his hardline stance on Israel's Arab minority, with critics accusing him of racism.
A resident of the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, he pleaded guilty in 2001 to assaulting a Palestinian youth who had hit his son.
The stocky politician has called for the execution of Israeli Arab MPs who had dealings with the militant Palestinian Hamas, for Gaza to be "treated like Chechnya" and for Israel to fight Hamas "just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II."
He regularly gets into verbal slanging matches with the Arab MPs whom he labels "clowns" and "terrorists" while they shoot back with "fascist," "thug" and "immigrant."
Israeli media have reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he should be fired.