Israel indicts ex-minister Lieberman

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Associated Press

Posted on December 30, 2012 at 11:06 AM

Updated Sunday, Dec 30 at 3:09 PM

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's Justice Ministry filed its indictment against former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in a Jerusalem court on Sunday, charging him with breach of trust and fraud in a case that could further harm his political career.

Lieberman is accused of trying to advance the career of a former diplomat after the envoy relayed information to him about a criminal investigation into the former Cabinet minister's business dealings.

On Dec. 13, the Justice Ministry released a draft indictment to both Lieberman and the press. On Sunday, an amended version of that draft was filed in the Jerusalem Magistrates Court after prosecutors received testimony suggesting he was more deeply involved than previously thought in trying to promote the diplomat.

The actual charges remained unchanged.

Lieberman, who denies any wrongdoing, resigned his Cabinet post earlier this month after he was informed of the pending charges, though he remains a member of parliament. He did not appear in court on Sunday and had no comment on the indictment.

The diplomat he tried to promote, former ambassador to Belarus Zeev Ben-Aryeh, reached a plea bargain with the state in the case earlier this year.

The indictment did not address the main suspicions against Lieberman that were the focus of a years-long investigation. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein ultimately decided that prosecutors did not have a strong enough case to charge Lieberman with illicitly receiving millions of dollars from businessmen and laundering the cash through straw companies in eastern Europe.

While he was charged with lesser offenses, Lieberman's political future could be compromised if the court that hears the case decides to convict him of a crime that carries what is known in Israeli law as "moral turpitude." Lawmakers convicted of such crimes must resign immediately from parliament, then are barred from re-entering politics for seven years.

Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party is running on a joint list with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud in the Jan. 22 election, and he is expected to be re-elected to parliament. Political commentators had viewed the hookup as grooming him to become a future prime minister. Lieberman takes a hard line on concessions to the Palestinians and perceives Israel's large Arab minority as a threat to the Jewish state.

In other political news, Israel's Supreme Court unanimously rejected an election committee's attempt to disqualify an Arab lawmaker from running for parliament again next month because she took part in a flotilla that tried to breach Israel's naval blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

The lawmaker, Hanin Zoabi, enraged many Israelis in 2010 by joining the Turkish-led Mavi Marmara flotilla, which was stormed by Israeli naval commandos who clashed with pro-Palestinian activists, killing nine. The Israeli military says the soldiers acted in self-defense after being attacked on the deck.

Zoabi was nearly assaulted in parliament by another lawmaker and subsequently was stripped of some of her parliamentary privileges.

Earlier this month, an Israeli elections committee voted to disqualify her from running in next month's election. She appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which overturned it, as it has rejected the committee's attempts in previous years to bar other Arab candidates from running.

"I welcome the ruling," Zoabi said. "I hope this ruling will put an end to the political witchhunt."

Lawmaker Danny Danon, who collected thousands of signatures demanding that Zoabi's candidacy be disqualified, accused the court of "backing the Marmara terrorist rather than naval commando fighters."

The court said in its ruling that it would release its reason for overturning the decision at a later date. Under Israel's election law, the court had to issue its ruling by Sunday.

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