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Israeli foreign minister Lieberman to face pre-indictment hearing

January 17, 2012 |  3:18 am
Israeli foreign minister Lieberman to face pre-indictment hearing

REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Israel's top justice authorities began a two-day hearing Monday for one of the government's top officials, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The proceedings move a years-long legal case closer to the end and signal what could also be the end of the current chapter in Lieberman's political career.

For more than a decade, Lieberman has been under investigation for a wide range of suspicions. Initial suspicions of bribery were not supported but the original case that began in the '90s took a turn in 2006 when new information suggested systematic financial misdeeds including money laundering and fraud purportedly carried out between 2001 and 2008.

Allegedly, for years millions of dollars were funnelled into fictitious companies registered abroad but controlled by Lieberman.

Liberman himself has denied all allegations and claimed the drawn-out case was politically motivated, with breaking developments conveniently timed to key political moments like primaries and cabinet appointments.

When Atty. Gen. Yehuda Weinstein announced in April his intention to indict Lieberman, subject to a hearing, Lieberman said, "I welcome the opportunity to prove my innocence."

The investigation that spanned more than a decade, eight countries, several governments and two attorneys general became a hot potato with the political potential to undo Israel's coalition.

Lieberman, perhaps Israel's most powerful politician, controls 15 of the 120 seats in parliament and his party, Yisrael Beitenu, is the senior partner in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government. 

The hearing starts Tuesday at the justice ministry, where Lieberman's four attorneys will challenge on his behalf the case materials before the attorney general and state prosecutor. The process will continue Wednesday if necessary and according to Israeli media, Weinstein's final decision could still be months away.

Lieberman himself will not be present.


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Photo: Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, gestures during his party meeting at the Kenesset. Credit: Sebastian Scheiner / Associated Press