Liberman’s acquittal clears path for return as foreign minister

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman was acquitted on a charge of fraud and breach of trust, clearing the way for a return to his old post.

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled Wednesday that Liberman did not unreasonably advance Zeev Ben Aryeh, Israel’s former ambassador to Belarus, to new positions.

Liberman, who heads the Yisrael Beiteinu party, is expected to return as foreign minister — a post that has remained vacant since the new government was formed last spring. His party is part of the coalition government.

He resigned as foreign minister last December, shortly before he was indicted for fraud and breach of trust for allegedly advancing Ben Aryeh in exchange for information on an investigation against Liberman. The charges came after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein closed a 12-year probe of Liberman in other cases. Liberman had said he would resign from politics if he were convicted.

In its decision exonerating Liberman, the court’s three-judge panel said Liberman had acted improperly by not telling the Foreign Ministry Appointments Committee of the information provided by Ben Aryeh when Liberman later appointed Ben Aryeh as his diplomatic adviser and then as ambassador to Latvia.

The judges rejected damaging testimony from Danny Ayalon, a former deputy foreign minister and head of the Appointments Committee. Testifying shortly after Liberman removed him from the Knesset list for Yisrael Beiteinu, Ayalon said Liberman had asked him to advance Ben Aryeh. Ayalon remained in the Foreign Ministry after Liberman resigned.

Following the acquittal, Liberman visited the Western Wall, where he donned a tallit and prayed.

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