Lieberman to be charged with fraud

Who me? Foreign Minister Lieberman

Who me? Foreign Minister Lieberman

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is to be charged with money laundering and fraud, according to Justice Ministry sources.

“We have enough proof to indict him on multiple charges of money laundering through a string of shell companies,” said a lawyer from the Justice Ministry, who is close to the investigation.

In the next few weeks, the police’s National Fraud Squad is expected to recommend an indictment against Mr Lieberman. Then Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz must decide whether to press charges, pending a hearing.

The investigation into Mr Lieberman’s financial affairs has been going on for over a decade. The central allegation is that he laundered tens of millions of dollars for Russian-Israeli businessman Mikhail Chernoi. Some of the companies used were listed as belonging to Lieberman’s daughter, Michal.

The investigation made a breakthrough last September when a change in the banking laws in Cyprus enabled police to obtain thousands of documents relating to money transfers to the shell companies. In January, more documents were seized in Mr Lieberman’s lawyer’s office. Michal Lieberman and a number of the minister’s associates were questioned by police officers. Last week, the Foreign Minister was questioned at length, twice. His first interview came the day after taking up his role as Foreign Minister.

If charges are brought against Mr Lieberman, he will be forced to resign from his ministerial position, though he will retain parliamentary immunity. His party, Yisrael Beiteinu, will then have to decide whether to stay in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition.

The party would not comment on the legal developments. A spokesman said dismissively that “the investigation has taken 13 years and it will take another 13 years to complete”.

But behind the scenes, members of the third largest party in the Knesset are already preparing for the worst. “I don’t think we will leave the coalition so quickly,” said an MK who preferred to remain anonymous. “We hold so many ministries and committees now and we want to remain a major party, whatever happens. Perhaps if Lieberman is forced to resign, we will renegotiate with Netanyahu and ask for another portfolio instead of the Foreign Ministry.”

Meanwhile, Mr Lieberman had a typically stormy first week on the job, saying of the Road Map: “Israel will adhere to every step; so must the Palestinians: We will adhere to it to the letter, exactly as written...[D]ismantling terrorist organizations, establishing an effective government, making a profound constitutional change in the Palestinian authority. We will proceed exactly according to our clauses.”

Last updated: 10:10am, April 7 2009