Israel’s former foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges of fraud and breach of trust at the start of a trial that has put the ultra-nationalist’s political career in doubt.
The allegations led Lieberman, a key ally of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to resign from cabinet two months ago. As head of the Yisrael Beitenu faction, he joined forces with Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud in last month’s general election. The joint list came first in the ballot.
The charges relate to the promotion of an Israeli diplomat, who admitted in a plea bargain he had illegally given Lieberman details of a police probe against the then-foreign minister.
Under Israeli law, conviction on the fraud and breach of trust charges could disqualify Lieberman from holding a cabinet post but he would be able to return to the government if he is cleared or if he receives a light, non-custodial sentence.
Lieberman remained silent throughout the hearing. The court will reconvene on 25 April to begin hearing evidence.
Lieberman, who lives in a settlement in the occupied West Bank, has stoked controversy by questioning the loyalties of Israel’s 1.5 million Arab citizens.