Corruption trial of Israel's Lieberman to start

AFP , Sunday 17 Feb 2013

The trial of Israel's ex-FM Avigdor Lieberman to start on Sunday as he faces 'charges of fraud and breach of trust'

Israel's ex-foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman (Photo: Reuters)

The trial of Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's former top diplomat, who is facing charges of fraud and breach of trust was due to open at Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Sunday, officials said.

The opening hearing before a panel of three judges was to begin at 1200 GMT, with Lieberman expressing confidence that he will be cleared of all charges and will return to resume his job as foreign minister.

In mid December, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said he was charging Lieberman with two offences over the promotion of Israel's former ambassador to Belarus, Zeev Ben Aryeh.

Lieberman immediately resigned his cabinet post over the incident which dates back to October 2008 when he was serving as an MP.

According to the indictment, Lieberman was allegedly tipped off by Ben Aryeh that Israeli police had contacted their counterparts in Belarus for help with a probe into his affairs.

He is then suspected of seeking to reward Ben Aryeh with a posting to Latvia.

An outspoken hardliner who has been investigated by police several times since 1996, Lieberman denies the charges against him, saying he is eager to vindicate himself in court.

Among the witnesses due to appear is deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon, who heads the ministry's appointments committee. Lieberman allegedly failed to tell him that Ben Aryeh had informed about the police probe.

His main concern will be to avoid a conviction including both a finding of "moral turpitude" and a prison sentence, which would bar him from serving as a minister for seven years.

Despite his resignation from the foreign ministry, Lieberman remains head of the hardline secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu which ran on a joint list with the rightwing Likud of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which narrowly won last month's general election.

The list won 31 seats in the 120-member parliament and Netanyahu is currently trying to piece together a coalition government, but Lieberman's political future will depend on the outcome of the trial.

Since Lieberman's resignation, Netanyahu has served as interim foreign minister but he is reportedly seeking to reinstate his ally once legal proceedings have been completed.

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