Israel foreign minister to face corruption hearing

AFP , Tuesday 3 Jan 2012

Avigdor Lieberman to attend legal hearing this month over graft allegations, could face criminal charges, say Israel officials

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is to attend a legal hearing over a range of graft allegations in mid-January, after which he may face criminal charges, the justice ministry said on Tuesday.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein would hold the hearing on 17-18 January, when the minister and his legal team could respond to the allegations, a justice ministry spokesman told AFP.

In April 2011, Weinstein announced he was considering pressing criminal charges against Lieberman, pending a hearing.

The alleged offences include "fraud, breach of trust, receiving something by deception, money-laundering and tampering with a witness," a justice ministry statement said at the time.

It said the allegations involved "millions of dollars" and referred to the period from 2001 to 2008 when Lieberman served as an MP and as minister for strategic affairs.

Lieberman's ultranationalist Israel Beitenu party is the second largest in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government after the premier's right wing Likud faction, and it is the third-largest in parliament.

He has pledged in the past to step down as both a minister and MP if he is charged, but it is unclear what the consequences might be for the coalition.

Lieberman has since 1996 been investigated several times over allegations of fraud and corruption, but has never been charged.

He denies any wrongdoing and says the police investigations are politically motivated.

The Soviet-born former bouncer has long courted controversy with his hard-line stance on Israel's Arab minority, with critics accusing him of racism.

A resident of the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, he pleaded guilty in 2001 to assaulting a Palestinian youth who had hit his son.

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