Thu, Nov 07, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Ex-Israeli minister Lieberman cleared of graft allegations

AP and REUTERS, JERUSALEM

Former Israeli minister of foreign affairs Avigdor Lieberman will return to the Cabinet after he was found innocent of all charges in a graft trial, acquittal in a corruption trial yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“I congratulate you on the unanimous acquittal and am happy about your return to the Israeli government so we can continue working together for the good of the people of Israel,” Netanyahu told Lieberman, according to a statement from the prime minister’s office.

He did not say what role Lieberman would take in government, but Netanyahu has kept the foreign ministry portfolio open for him pending the verdict.

The trial had threatened to reshape the makeup of the government, but in the end, Lieberman was handed a resounding victory that instantly raises his clout in a bitterly divided coalition.

The verdict was delivered inside a closed courtroom, and minutes later, a jubilant Lieberman appeared outside.

“This chapter is behind me and I am focusing on the challenges ahead, and there are plenty of challenges,” he said, claiming he had been persecuted by overzealous prosecutors for 17 years.

Lieberman, an ally and sometime rival to Netanyahu, has long been dogged by corruption allegations, but this case was the first time he was accused of criminal behavior. He was charged with fraud and breach of trust for allegedly trying to advance the career of a former diplomat who relayed information to him about a separate criminal investigation into Lieberman’s business dealings.

Prosecutors said they respected the court’s decision and would study it before deciding whether to appeal.

Lieberman had led his nationalist Yisrael Beitenu into a merger with Netanyahu’s Likud Party earlier this year, but the alliance backfired. He is considering breaking up the alliance, a move that could increase his influence since he could rob Netanyahu of his parliamentary majority.

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