Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is resigning his cabinet post in yet another corruption scandal to hit the governing establishment here—this one just five weeks ahead of Israel’s national election.
Lieberman made the announcement on Friday, a day after Israel’s attorney general said he would indict him for breach of trust, in a case that goes back more than a decade. Prosecutors decided not to include more severe charges they had been weighing against Lieberman, among them fraud and money laundering.
It was not immediately clear what repercussions the decision would have on the election next month and the formation of a new government after the vote.
Lieberman, one of Israel’s most hawkish politicians, is a key member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political circle. The two men merged their political parties for the election, with Lieberman holding the number-two position on the joint ticket behind Netanyahu.
He was expected to retain his position in parliament and compete in the election despite the indictment. But he would not take a new cabinet post until a trial is held, according to members of his party.
In a statement Lieberman posted on his Facebook page, he urged prosecutors to quickly set a trial date.
“I believe that the citizens of the State of Israel are entitled to go to the polling stations after this matter has already been resolved,” he wrote.
“I know that I committed no crime.”
Israeli media reported that Lieberman might be aiming for a quick plea bargain deal in order to end the case within weeks.
Police have been investigating Lieberman since at least 2,000 for receiving large sums of money from foreign businessmen, possibly in exchange for political favors.
Though hundreds of people were questioned, the attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, explained in a report issued Thursday that large-scale misconduct could not be adequately established.
Instead, he decided to indict the foreign minister on suspicion of promoting a Israeli diplomat years ago as a reward for providing Lieberman with information regarding the police investigation against him.
Israelis across the political spectrum welcomed the resignation, which came as a surprise. On Thursday, Lieberman indicated that since the no charges would be filed on the most severe allegations, he would continue serving on Netanyahu’s cabinet.
But members of the left-wing Meretz party said they would ask Israel’s High Court of Justice to force Lieberman’s resignation—relying on similar measures the panel has taken against other politicians.
Lieberman, who is 54, was born in Moldova and immigrated to Israel in the 1970s. His Israel Beiteinu party is the third-largest in parliament. Its supporters include large numbers of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
His pronouncements often put him at the hawkish end of a government that is itself one of the most right wing in Israel’s history.
In the last month alone, he has suggested toppling Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, threatened to invade Gaza if rocket attacks are renewed on Israel and invoked the Holocaust while criticizing Europe’s positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The list of Israeli politicians indicted for corruption over the past decade includes a former prime minister and an ex–finance minister. The country’s former president, Moshe Katzav, is serving a seven-year prison sentence on two counts of rape.