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Israel: Former FM, Lieberman, Pleads Not Guilty as Trial Starts

17 Feb 2013

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Israel's former foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman

Israel's former foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, pleaded not guilty on Sunday to charges of fraud and breach of trust at the start of a trial that has put the ultranationalist's political career into doubt.

The allegations led Lieberman, a key ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to resign from cabinet two months ago.

As head of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu faction, he joined forces with Netanyahu's right-wing Likud in last month's general election. The joint list came first in the ballot but with fewer parliamentary seats than forecast, reports Reuters.

Netanyahu is trying to put together a governing coalition and it is unclear whether he will hold open the foreign ministry post for Lieberman until a verdict is in.

The charges relate to the promotion of an Israeli diplomat, who admitted in a plea bargain he had illegally given Lieberman details of a police probe against the then-foreign minister.

Under Israeli law, conviction on the fraud and breach of trust charges could disqualify Lieberman from holding a cabinet post but he would be able to return to the government if he is cleared or if he receives a light, non-custodial sentence.

Lieberman remained silent throughout the hearing and did not speak to reporters as he left Jerusalem Magistrates' Court.

The court will reconvene on April 25 to begin hearing evidence.

Lieberman, who lives in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, has stoked controversy by questioning the loyalties of Israel's 1.5 million Arab citizens.

Tags: News, World, Israel, LIEBERMAN TRIAL

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