Tue, Aug 04, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Israeli police ask for indictment of foreign minister

THE GUARDIAN , JERUSALEM

Israeli police have recommended charging the country’s hardline foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, with several counts of corruption as part of a bribery investigation that could lead to his resignation and a significant government reshuffle.

Lieberman, head of a popular far-right party, is suspected of bribery, fraud, breach of trust, money laundering and obstruction of justice in a case dating back over nine years. If charged and convicted he could face up to 31 years in jail.

He defended himself on Sunday, saying the case against him was politically motivated and that he was innocent on all counts.

The Haaretz newspaper said Lieberman and his aides are accused of using front companies, some in Cyprus, to launder money and of obstructing an inquiry by changing the company names during the investigation. He continued the business operation after he became a minister, it said.

Other Israeli press reports suggest he has been investigated for suspected illegal campaign financing and receiving money from a business tycoon.

Police have also reportedly investigated his relationship with an Israeli diamond tycoon who has interests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

An immigrant from the former Soviet Union, Lieberman, 50, now lives in a settlement in the occupied West Bank. He has been under investigation since 2006, though that has done little to dampen his electoral appeal. His party, Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home), campaigned on a tough anti-Arab platform and came in a surprisingly strong third in February’s general elections, elevating the populist Lieberman to the heart of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet.

Since then the investigation against him has intensified. The case now passes to Israel’s attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, who in the coming weeks or months will decide whether or not to charge the minister. Mazuz has already made clear his concerns about Lieberman. Two months ago he criticized Lieberman’s appointment as foreign minister at a time when he was already under police investigation.

“A properly run country should not reach such a situation,” Mazuz said at the time.

Lieberman is the latest in a list of Israeli politicians who have faced corruption investigations. Among them is Ehud Olmert, who had to resign as prime minister and is still under investigation.

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