JERUSALEM – A day after government prosecutors announced plans to indict him on a breach of trust charge, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Friday that he would step down from his office and focus on resolving the criminal case against him.
Most viewed the resignation as a strategic move on the part of the combative right-wing politician, rather than a capitulation.
Lieberman, who has denied any wrongdoing, hinted that he would attempt to reach a plea bargain in the case before national elections on Jan. 22. He will remain a candidate and is virtually assured a seat in the next Knesset, the Israeli parliament.
His decision followed Thursday’s announcement by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein that Lieberman would be indicted on charges that he promoted Israel’s ambassador to Belarus after the diplomat gave him confidential materials related to the government investigation of the foreign minister.
At the same time, prosecutors dropped a more serious money-laundering case in which Lieberman was suspected of secretly receiving millions of dollars from businesspeople through shell companies. The attorney general criticized Lieberman’s actions, but said there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute the case.
It remained unclear who would replace Lieberman as foreign minister until a new government is elected and formed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has had a rocky relationship with Lieberman in recent years, has shown no sign of backing away from his rival. After Friday’s announcement, Netanyahu expressed hope that Lieberman would soon return to a top-level position in the government, Israeli news reports said.
Lieberman will remain head of the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, which is running on a joint slate with Netanyahu’s Likud party.