Israel Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigns

Avigdor Lieberman As leader of the Yisrael Beitenu party, Avigdor Lieberman is one of Israel's most powerful politicians

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Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has resigned after prosecutors decided to charge him with breach of trust.

Mr Lieberman has also resigned as deputy prime minister, and said he would fight to clear his name of the charges.

The case against him relates to a financial scandal dating back more than a decade.

His resignation comes five weeks before Israel's general election.

"Though I know I committed no crime... I have decided to resign my post as foreign minister and deputy prime minister," Mr Lieberman said in a statement released by his office.

He also said he would waive his parliamentary immunity and suggested he hoped to settle the case before the elections, due on 22 January, allowing him to stand as a candidate as planned.

"I am doing this because I am convinced that Israel's citizens should be able to go to the polls after this matter has been settled... and I can continue to serve the state of Israel and Israel's citizens as part of a strong united leadership," Mr Lieberman said in the statement.

Mr Lieberman is the leader of Yisrael Beitenu, the second largest party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-led coalition government.

Avigdor Lieberman is one of the most colourful and belligerent politicians in Israeli public life, but he timed the announcement of his emailed resignation statement for the quiet hours of Friday afternoon when the country begins to shut down in time for the Jewish Sabbath.

A polarising figure, he is seen by his supporters as a tough-talking defender of Israeli interests and by his opponents as an anti-Arab extremist. He may yet try to portray the whole affair as a conspiracy by an old Israeli establishment against a Soviet-born newcomer.

The combined candidate list of Mr Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu movement and Prime Minister Netanyahu's Likud is widely expected to win next month's election easily and it's not likely that his resignation will change that.

The two parties were due to run together in January's general election, with polls suggesting they were on course to win before the charges against Mr Lieberman were announced.

Serious charges dropped

Police had been investigating allegations of money laundering and bribery against Mr Lieberman, but prosecutors instead announced plans to charge him with the lesser offence of breach of trust.

That relates to him receiving confidential documents concerning the investigation against him from the former Israeli ambassador to Belarus, who he later promoted to another post.

The more serious charges of bribery and money laundering relate to allegations that Mr Lieberman received millions of dollars from businessmen with interests in Israel, and laundered the money through shell companies and bank accounts.

Israeli prosecutors said they had been forced to close the case due to a lack of evidence.

Mr Lieberman has denied any wrongdoing, and described the investigations as a witch hunt.

He is seen as one of Israel's most outspoken politicians. Born in Moldova, he is one of the million Israelis who immigrated from the former Soviet Union.

Seen as to the right of Mr Netanyahu, Mr Lieberman has been a harsh critic of the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas. He lives in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

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