Friday, 18 February 2011

Israel ready to charge Avigdor Lieberman

ISRAEL'S controversial Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, will be charged within two weeks with money-laundering and other offences, the Israeli media reported yesterday.

Mr Lieberman has said he will step down if charged, but insists he has not broken any law and says he will return to politics once that is made clear in the courts.

Mr Lieberman's departure from the government, even temporarily, could lead to far-reaching changes in Israeli politics.

Some analysts believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will see it as an opportunity to replace Mr Lieberman's right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party in the ruling coalition with the moderate Kadima Party, headed by Tzipi Livni.

Kadima, with 28 of the 120 Knesset seats, is the largest parliamentary bloc.

Mr Netanyahu has often suggested his room for manoeuvre on peace negotiations is constrained by his right-wing coalition partners, although sceptics believe he is only shielding his own hardline views and unwillingness to make any territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

Mr Netanyahu has often been in confrontation with Mr Lieberman, who sees himself as the future leader of Israel's right wing and openly defies the Prime Minister on issues from the appointment of ambassadors to declarations about sensitive international matters.

The charges against Mr Lieberman date back to his early years as a Knesset member when he allegedly received large sums from foreign businessmen, particularly from the former Soviet Union.

Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein was planning to charge Mr Lieberman with fraud, breach of trust, money-laundering and obstruction of justice, the reports said.

However, Mr Weinstein has reportedly decided not to indict him on charges of bribery.

The investigation into Mr Lieberman's affairs has been going on since 2006.

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