Avigdor Lieberman was acquitted of corruption charges by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Wednesday and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately offered him his old job back as Israel’s foreign minister.
“I congratulate you on your unanimous acquittal and am happy about your returning to the government so that we can continue working together for the good of Israel,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
The only thing that could keep Lieberman from immediately assuming his former post is an appeal by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. There was no immediate word on whether that would happen.
Lieberman, who had been dogged by allegations of corruption even before he entered government, was charged with fraud and breach of trust over claims that he appointed Zeev Ben Aryeh to a diplomatic post in return for inside information about the police probe into his affairs.
The three-member court agreed that Lieberman had engaged in “inappropriate conduct” by not informing the appointment’s committee of Ben Aryeh’s actions, but said it did not rise to the level of criminal conduct.
“I want to thank the court,” a joyous Lieberman gushed after the verdict was read during a court session that lasted just minutes, according to Israel Radio.
“After 17 years (of investigations), it is behind me,” he told reporters as he left the courthouse. “I am putting this matter behind me and I look forward to the challenges ahead.”
He then went to the Western Wall to offer a prayer.
Lieberman, 55, a stocky former nightclub bouncer, is leader of the nationalist party Yisrael Beitenu, which has roots among Russian-speaking secular Israelis. Lieberman and his party have aligned with Netanyahu’s Likud Party in Netanyahu’s last two governments. Although seen as a hardliner, Lieberman has also been a pragmatist. Once he resumes his critical cabinet position – from which he took a leave of absence after his indictment – it remains to be seen what if any pressure he may exert on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks now underway.
Lieberman’s exoneration comes at a time that Secretary of State John Kerry is in the region to discuss the status of the peace talks with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
During a photo session with Kerry, Netanyahu was heard to say that Abbas and the Palestinians had been blocking progress in the talks.