Liberman at opening of fraud trial pleads not guilty


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman at the opening of his trial for fraud and breach of trust pleaded not guilty on all counts.

The trial opened Sunday afternoon in front of a three-judge panel in Jerusalem District Court.

Witnesses will begin testifying after the Passover holiday, in late April. The timing of the trial means Liberman cannot be appointed as a minister in the new government being formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, ran second in last month’s national elections to Netanyahu.

Liberman resigned as foreign minister at the end of December, shortly before his indictment for fraud and breach of trust for allegedly advancing the position of Zeev Ben Aryeh, Israel’s former ambassador to Belarus, 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 has said he would resign from politics if he were convicted. If he were convicted and his actions were determined to involve moral turpitude, Liberman would be forced to resign from the Knesset and to stay out of politics for at least seven years.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon reportedly is the state’s key witness in the Ben Aryeh case and reportedly will testify against Liberman during the trial. Shortly before the indictment was formally issued, Liberman announced that Ayalon would not be included on the Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset list for the national elections.

Ayalon stayed on at the Foreign Ministry despite Liberman stepping down.

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