News24

Israel to decide on Lieberman indictment

2012-01-17 21:25

Jerusalem - Lawyers for Israel's controversial foreign minister launched a last-ditch bid on Tuesday to fend off his indictment on corruption charges - a development that could topple Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

The attorney general's office began what is expected to be a two-day hearing to let Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman defend himself against allegations that he illicitly received money and laundered it through shell companies.

Lieberman, who has denied wrongdoing, was out of the country on an official trip and did not attend the hearing.

A final decision on an indictment could take months. Police first started investigating suspicions against Lieberman more than a decade ago, and in April, the attorney general's office announced that it was considering an indictment, pending this week's hearing.

Such hearings are routinely offered to senior officials to give them an opportunity to block an indictment.

Lieberman, a contentious figure at home and abroad because of his bluntly delivered ultranationalist views, would be forced to resign if formally charged.

His indictment could jeopardise the government if he pulls his Yisrael Beiteinu Party out of the coalition and robs Netanyahu of his parliamentary majority.

Yisrael Beiteinu is Israel's third-largest party and Lieberman maintains significant political clout as its unequivocal leader.