Liberman pleads not guilty at opening of fraud trial

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

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The trial opened on 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 in last month’s national elections as second to Netanyahu.

Liberman resigned at the end of December as foreign minister shortly before his indictment on the charges of 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 him. The charges came after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein closed a 12-year probe of Liberman in other cases.

Liberman has said that he would resign from politics if he is convicted. If he is convicted and his actions are 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 recent national elections.

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

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