Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman sounded a defiant note on Thursday after Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein announced he would indict him for fraud and breach of trust. The indictment in question refers to the foreign minister’s role in allegedly promoting a diplomat who provided him with sensitive information about the police investigation against him.
Speaking at a Yisrael Beytenu campaign event on Thursday, Lieberman said he would not resign as minister or leave the Knesset unless Weinstein issues a binding directive ordering him to depart, according to Israel Hayom. Lieberman explained that his decision results from Weinstein himself not yet having offered a clear legal opinion on whether the allegations in the indictment relate to what is considered “severe crimes” (which would require him to resign as per a High Court precedent) and the fact that there was an ongoing elections campaign.
The investigation into Lieberman’s conduct has been on and off since 1998. The attorney-general’s draft indictment, issued in April of last year, was much more damning than Thursday’s final announcement, involving allegations of money laundering through shell companies, harassment of a witness and more severe charges of fraud and breach of trust.
Weinstein decided to forego prosecution on most charges due to a lack of sufficient evidence. The watered-down indictment is limited to Lieberman’s alleged actions in 2009, when he allegedly had the government promote then ambassador to Belarus, Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh, and have him appointed as Israel’s chief diplomat in Latvia. Lieberman is faulted for not disclosing that the latter had provided the minister with unauthorized information on the police investigation into his corruption case.
Members of Israel’s opposition parties are calling for Lieberman to step down.
“If he won’t quit then I call on [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu to fire him immediately,” Labor Chairwoman MK Shelly Yachimovich said. “If that does not happen, then Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein needs to make the prime minister do it… Lieberman cannot be allowed to stay in office for another minute.”