Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, seen in Jerusalem on January 8, 2012. Israel's attorney general is to preside over a two-day hearing to decide whether to indict Lieberman on charges of fraud, breach of trust and money laundering. © Menahem Kahana - AFP/Pool/File
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman
AFP
Last updated: January 18, 2012

Israel prosecutors hold graft hearing for Lieberman

Israel's attorney general was on Tuesday presiding over a hearing to decide whether to indict Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on charges of fraud, breach of trust and money laundering.

Lieberman's four-strong legal team began presenting their arguments at midday (1000 GMT) to State Prosecutor Moshe Lador and other top prosecutors in a bid to convince Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein not to indict their client, judicial sources said.

"Lieberman's lawyers began presenting their client's response to allegations against him at midday," a justice ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

"The hearing is taking place at the justice ministry and may possibly continue on Wednesday," she said.

The hearing was to end by 3:00 pm but the ministry said it was not planning to put out a statement, with Weinstein only expected to make a decision in the coming months, media news reports said.

Lieberman, who is currently wrapping up a trip to Poland, was not required to attend.

In April 2011, Weinstein announced he was considering pressing criminal charges against Lieberman, pending a hearing.

In cases where a government minister or a judge is suspected of criminal activity, only the attorney general can decide whether or not to press charges.

The alleged offences include "fraud, breach of trust, receiving something by deception, money laundering and tampering with a witness," a justice ministry statement said at the time.

The indictment says Lieberman is suspected of receiving "millions of dollars" between 2001 to 2008 when he served as an MP and then as a cabinet minister.

Prosecutors say they have evidence Lieberman set up a system of straw companies through which he received the money, which was never declared.

Lieberman has in the past pledged to step down both as a minister and MP if he is charged, but it is unclear what the consequences might be for the coalition government.

Lieberman's ultranationalist Israel Beitenu party is the second largest in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition after the premier's rightwing Likud faction, and it is the third-largest in parliament.

Lieberman has since 1996 been investigated several times over allegations of fraud and corruption, but has never been charged.

He denies any wrongdoing and says the police investigations are politically motivated.

The Soviet-born former bouncer has long courted controversy with his hardline stance on Israel's Arab minority, with critics accusing him of racism.

A resident of the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, he pleaded guilty in 2001 to assaulting a Palestinian youth who had hit his son.

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