Israel's FM to stand hearing in corruption trial

Updated: 2011-07-18 09:48


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JERUSALEM - Israel's Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein plans to summon Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for a hearing in December on corruption charges.

Lieberman, who heads the Yisrael Beiteinu party, is facing indictment on charges of fraud, breach of trust, money laundering and witness harassment.

In April, Weinstein announced his intention to file an indictment against Lieberman pending a hearing. Over the weekend, he sent a letter to the foreign minister's attorneys, notifying them that it has been set for mid-December.

According to the draft indictment, beginning in 1997 Lieberman established ties with private businessmen and maintained them via a host of firms, some of them front companies, in Israel and abroad, while serving terms as both a minister and lawmaker in 2001-2008.

In 2001, following his appointment as Israeli National Infrastructures Minister in Ariel Sharon's government, Lieberman officially declared that he had sold his stake in the companies.

But Weinstein believes that Lieberman continued to enjoy funds received from his business associates, to the tune of some 3.5 million U.S. Dollars that he allegedly used for his private and political needs. His daughter, Michal Lieberman-Gilon, in 2004 launched ML1, an international consulting firm, and was listed as its main shareholder.

That firm alone is suspected of having laundered 2.5 million U. S. dollars over the course of three years.

Lieberman, who has flatly denied the allegations leveled at him, previously said he would resign from the government if an indictment were to be filed, a move that could rattle Netanyahu's Likud-led coalition and lead to early elections.

Local legal sources estimated over the weekend that a decision to indict the foreign minister will not happen before April 2012.

Lieberman, the dominant partner in Netanyahu's coalition, has previously said that Weinsten and the Israel police Fraud Investigations Unit are conducting a "witch hunt" against him, and voiced optimism that his innocence would ultimately be proven.

In April, he told his party's ministers, "I have no reason for concern. After 15 years I will finally have the opportunity to prove that I've always acted lawfully."