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Updated Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 12:01 AM

Lieberman pre-election exit roils Israeli politics

By JODY RUDOREN
The New York Times

JERUSALEM — Facing indictment for breach of trust and fraud, Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, resigned Friday amid mounting political pressure, upending the campaign landscape five weeks before national elections.

Lieberman, a powerful but polarizing figure, wrote on his Facebook page, “I know that I committed no crime,” but said he was stepping down so “I will be able to put an end to this matter swiftly and without delay and to clear my name completely.”

Lieberman, who is also a member of Parliament, indicated he hoped to compete in the Jan. 22 balloting, suggesting a possible plea bargain.

He fought off a broader accusation of money laundering and fraud that was dropped after an investigation that stretched on for more than 12 years. The indictment, which prosecutors announced Thursday, concerns a relatively minor offense by comparison.

Lieberman, 54, leads the secular, ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, which joined forces in October with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party. A populist immigrant from the former Soviet Union, he was widely considered as a potential successor to Netanyahu as leader of Israel’s right wing, though his hard line on the Palestinian question, among other issues, alienated many Western allies.

After the charges were announced, Lieberman said he had been hounded by corruption accusations since July 1996, when he served as a top aide to Netanyahu during his first term as prime minister.

The conduct for which Lieberman will face indictment stems from an investigation into other allegations. He is accused of promoting Israel’s former ambassador to Belarus for another post after the ambassador gave him confidential information regarding an Israeli police investigation into Lieberman’s activities.

But he will not face charges on the underlying, more serious case, in which he was suspected of receiving millions of dollars from international tycoons with business interests in Israel through companies formally led by family members or associates.

Born in Moldova, Lieberman enjoys wide support among Israel’s 1 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Polls have consistently shown Lieberman’s joint ticket with Netanyahu, known in Israel as Likud Beitenu, is expected to receive up to 40 of the 120 seats in Israel’s next Parliament, by far the largest bloc.

The merger was seen as crowning him a top contender to eventually follow Netanyahu as prime minister.



Avigdor Lieberman




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