Israeli foreign minister to be charged with fraud

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, pictured in 2010, has long denied all allegations.

Story highlights

  • Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was not charged with more serious corruption charges
  • He has long maintained his innocence
  • Allegations date back to before he became foreign minister

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman will be charged with breach of trust and fraud, the country's Ministry of Justice said Thursday.

Liberman will not face more serious corruption charges including money laundering and witness tampering, the ministry said.

There was insufficient evidence for the case that involved such charges, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said. That decision closes a case that has spanned more than a decade and allegedly involved hundreds of millions of dollars transferred through foreign businessmen to companies Liberman owned while he was serving as a Knesset member and minister.

He has long denied all the allegations.

"I have always operated according to the law and I have no reason to worry," Liberman said last year.

The case that goes forward, involving lesser charges, is from 2009. Prosecutors said Liberman pushed to get the Israeli Ambassador to Belarus posted to another country after the diplomat allegedly handed over confidential information that included details of a secret police inquiry pertaining to Liberman.

"We respect the attorney general's decision and we will study it," Liberman's attorneys said Thursday.

Liberman's party, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party, Likud, have formed a coalition ahead of the January 22 elections. Liberman is a prime candidate for a top spot in the government if the coalition wins a majority in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament -- which seems likely, given recent polls.

Opposition parties pounced on Thursday's news. Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party, issued a statement saying anyone who, according to the attorney general, "has caused material damage to the public and acted in a complete conflict of interests vis-a-vis his public responsibilities cannot continue to serve in the government and represent Israel to the world."

Liberman has faced international criticism for his hard-line stance on Israel's Arab minorities.

His ultra-nationalist party, the second-largest in the governing coalition, is especially popular with immigrants from the former Soviet Union, where Liberman was born and raised.