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Charges against Israel's Lieberman toughened

In this Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 file photo, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaks to the media during an event of his political party in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty, File)

JERUSALEM: Israeli prosecutors have decided to toughen charges levelled against ex-foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman of fraud and breach of trust, the justice ministry said on Thursday.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced on December 13 that he would be charging Lieberman with the two offences over the promotion of Israel's former ambassador to Belarus, Zeev Ben Arie, and presented the indictment to parliament before filing it to the court.

Lieberman resigned from office the next day, adding that he hoped he would be able to answer the charges before a snap parliamentary election called for January 22.

But media reports implying an insufficient inquiry into the case prompted Weinstein to reopen the investigation, and on Thursday he presented a tougher version of the same charges, with more evidence and additional witnesses.

A spokeswoman for the justice ministry told AFP the updated chargesheet would be filed to the Jerusalem magistrates court on Sunday, December 30.

Among the witnesses named in the new chargesheet is deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon, who heads the ministry's appointments committee.

Lieberman stands accused of receiving confidential details from Ben Arie of an investigation into his affairs by Belarussian police and of then seeking to reward him with promotion to ambassador to Latvia.

Lieberman allegedly did not tell Ayalon that Ben Arie had illegally kept him informed of the Belarussian inquiry.

Ayalon was recently ousted from Lieberman's ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, which is contesting the election on a joint list with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rightwing Likud party. No reason for his ouster was given.

After the announcement of the tougher charges, Lieberman again insisted he was innocent and stressed he wanted "the issue to be swiftly clarified in a court."

He denied "rumours" that he had sought to reach a plea bargain.

Since 1996, Lieberman has faced several investigations into fraud and corruption allegations but has never been convicted.

The outspoken Soviet-born politician has courted controversy with his hardline stance on Israel's Arab minority, with critics accusing him of racism.

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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