BEIRUT

Middle East

Graft trial of Israel's Lieberman gets under way

Former Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman (C) arrives to Jerusalem's magistrate court for the continuation of his trial April 25, 2013. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel's former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman was in court on Thursday as his trial on charges of fraud and breach of trust got under way in Jerusalem.

At a first hearing on February 17, Lieberman pleaded not guilty in a trial which will decide the one-time nightclub bouncer's political future.

Lieberman is suspected of trying to secure an ambassadorial posting for Israeli diplomat Zeev Ben Aryeh who provided him with confidential information about a police investigation into his affairs.

The incident allegedly took place in 2008 when Lieberman was serving only as an MP.

The case is being heard at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court by a panel of three judges.

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

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

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

When Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said he was going to charge Lieberman over the affair, he immediately resigned his cabinet post although he retains his status as an MP and head of the hardline Yisrael Beitenu party.

He has expressed confidence he will be cleared on all charges and will return to the foreign ministry.

Among the witnesses due to appear is Lieberman's former deputy Danny Ayalon, who headed the ministry's appointments committee at the time.

Lieberman allegedly failed to tell him that Ben Aryeh had informed him about the police probe.

Ben Aryeh is also expected to take the stand.

Lieberman's 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.

Since Lieberman's resignation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has himself served as interim foreign minister but he is reportedly seeking to reinstate his ally once the legal proceedings are over.

 

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