By Linda Gradstein
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, August 3, 2009
JERUSALEM, Aug. 2 -- Israeli police recommended Sunday that the state indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on charges of bribery, fraud, money laundering, witness harassment and obstruction of justice.
A spokesman for the Justice Ministry said the file now moves to the state prosecutor's office and then to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who would have to approve the recommendation before Lieberman could be formally indicted. That process could take weeks or even months. If the foreign minister is indicted, he will have to resign, according to Israeli law.
Lieberman released a combative statement after the police announcement.
"For 13 years the police have conducted a campaign of persecution against me," he said. "As much as my political strength and the strength of [my party] Yisrael Beitenu rise, the campaign of persecution also intensifies."
He said he was innocent of all the allegations and called the investigation "judicial torture."
The Haaretz newspaper reported that Lieberman made more than $600,000 as a salaried employee of his daughter's company from 2004 to 2006, when he was not a parliament member or a minister. Haaretz reported that from 2004 to 2007, the firm headed by Lieberman's daughter Michal received about $3 million from anonymous sources overseas for "business consulting."
Lieberman founded and leads the party Yisrael Beitenu, or Israel Is Our Home, which is a key member of the government coalition and has a strong appeal among Russian-speaking immigrants to Israel. That party won 15 seats in Israel's recent elections and became the third-largest party in parliament.
Lieberman, who lives in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, is controversial here. He has called for loyalty oaths for all Israeli citizens, a move directed at Israel's Arab citizens. He has also said some Arab-majority areas of Israel should be annexed to a future Palestinian state, in effect removing citizenship from tens of thousands of Israeli Arabs.
"Lieberman has been very ineffective as a foreign minister," said Aluf Benn, the editor-at-large of Haaretz. "The Arab foreign ministers have boycotted him, the Europeans were reluctant to talk to him, and even with the Americans there was a marked difference."
Also Sunday, Israeli police evicted two Palestinian families from homes in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the homes belonged to Jews. The area has been at the center of tensions between Israel and the Obama administration over Israeli plans to build more homes for Jews there.
Meanwhile, Israel allowed Palestinians to travel Sunday on a road from the West Bank city of Hebron to the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba. It was the first time in eight years that the road was opened to Palestinians. Hebron's Palestinian governor, Hussein al-Araj, said the move by Israel was an attempt to distract attention from its continued settlement activities and called on Palestinians not to use the road.