Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned on Friday, a day after the country's attorney General announced his decision to charge the politician with breach of trust in connection with a financial scandal dating back more than a decade.
In a statement released by his office, Lieberman said he was resigning both as the country's foreign minister as well as deputy Prime Minister with immediate effect in order to try and clear his name ahead of the general elections due January 22.
"Though I know I committed no crime... I have decided to resign my post as foreign minister and deputy prime minister," Lieberman, a close political allay of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said in the statement.
"I am doing this because I am convinced that Israel's citizens should be able to go to the polls after this matter has been settled... and I can continue to serve the state of Israel and Israel's citizens as part of a strong united leadership," he added.
A day earlier, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein had announced the decision to indict Lieberman on breach of trust charges in connection with a case involving the promotion of former Israeli ambassador to Belarus Ze'ev Ben Aryeh.
Ben Aryeh was allegedly promoted after he leaked confidential information to Lieberman about a police investigation progressing against the right-wing politician on allegations of bribery, money laundering and breach of trust.
The police investigation focused on allegations that Lieberman used shell companies and bogus bank accounts to launder millions of dollars he had received as bribes from businessmen with interests in Israel.
Nevertheless, Attorney General Weinstein announced Thursday that prosecutors have decided to drop the serious charges of bribery and money laundering against Lieberman, and to charge him with only with the lesser offense of breach of trust. Lieberman, however, denies any wrongdoing.
Lieberman has been a controversial figure in Israeli politics because of his far-right views and his appointment as foreign minister following the February 2009 election was received with caution by the international community.
Lieberman is known for his hard-line stance on peace talks with Palestinians and his support for the Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. He is also seen by many as a racist for his past remarks about Israeli Arabs.
In October, Liberman's ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party merged with Prime Minister Netanyahu's Likud Party to form an unified party ahead of the upcoming general elections in January. Ahead of the merger, the Yisrael Beitenu party had 15 seats in Israel's 120-seat parliament, and was the main coalition partner in Netanyahu's government.
Weeks ahead of the merger, Netanyahu had called early general elections on January 22, nine months ahead of schedule. The move was apparently prompted by the failure to reach an agreement on the country's annual budget with partners in the right-wing coalition government. The general elections were originally scheduled to take place in October 2013.
Netanyahu remains popular in Israel, but analysts predict the emergence of another coalition government from the next elections, mainly due to the proportional nature of the Jewish nation's voting system. The Likud party had secured 27 Knesset seats in the last election. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether Lieberman's indictment would have any effect on the outcome of the forthcoming polls.
by RTT Staff Writer
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