Israel's Lieberman acquitted in corruption case
SHOTLIST: JERUSALEM, NOVEMBER 6, 2013. SOURCE: AFPTV -Lieberman arrives at the Jerusalem Magistrates Court for the verdict -Lieberman leaving court after acquittal verdict -Lieberman prays at the Wailing Wall JERUSALEM, NOVEMBER 6, 2013. SOURCE: POOL NO RESALE FOR NON EDITORIAL PURPOSES SOUNDBITE 1 - Avigdor Lieberman (man), former Israeli Foreign Minister (Hebrew, 21sec): "I want to thank my family, my friends, who stood behind me these past 17 years, believing in justice and supporting me. I want to thank my defense team, who did a great job - an amazing job." SOUNDBITE 2 - Avigdor Lieberman (man), former Israeli Foreign Minister (Hebrew, 15 sec): "I'm not going to deal with this ordeal anymore, this chapter is behind me. I'm focusing now on the challenges we're facing on our (Israel's) doorstep." /// ----------------------------------------------------------- AFP TEXT STORY: Israel's Lieberman acquitted on graft charges Jerusalem (Undefined) 06 November 2013 11:49 AFP (Hazel WARD) An Israeli court on Wednesday acquitted Avigdor Lieberman on corruption charges in a move welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who hailed his anticipated return to government as foreign minister. The verdict, reached by a panel of three judges at Jerusalem Magistrates Court, means the outspoken hardliner is free to return to a commanding position within the coalition - in a move which could have implications for Israel's peace talks with the Palestinians. But his return to the cabinet would be frozen if Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein were to file an appeal. "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 stocky 55-year-old former nightclub bouncer was put on trial on charges of fraud and breach of trust over his appointment of Israeli diplomat Zeev Ben Aryeh to the post of ambassador to Latvia after he tipped Lieberman off about a police probe into his affairs. The prosecution said the appointment was given as a reward and represented a severe conflict of interests, particularly as Lieberman had not made anyone aware of Ben Aryeh's tip-off. Although the judges agreed he had engaged in "inappropriate conduct", they did not find it worthy of a criminal conviction, announcing his acquittal in a court hearing which lasted just minutes, public radio reported. The ruling is a watershed in the political career of a man who holds a key position in Israel's governing coalition, which is jointly led by an alliance of Netanyahu's rightwing Likud and Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu. "I want to thank the court," said a jubilant Lieberman after the hearing. "After 17 years (of investigations), it is behind me... I am putting this matter behind me and I look forward to the challenges ahead." The verdict means Lieberman can "return to his role as foreign minister from today," the radio's legal commentator said. But the reintroduction of the tough-talking Lieberman to the heart of coalition politics could also have implications for US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which began in late July after a nearly three-year hiatus. Lieberman's exoneration comes as US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Jerusalem holding talks with Netanyahu aimed at shoring up the negotiations which have been shaken by recent Israeli moves to advance settlement construction. Public radio said Lieberman's return to the coalition would be "a harsh blow to Kerry". Lieberman has a long history of making incendiary anti-Arab remarks and has often shown open disdain for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, calling him a "diplomatic terrorist" and an obstacle to peace. Abbas and Kerry were to meet in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Wednesday. Commentators warned that Lieberman's reentry into coalition politics could be a rallying cry for the hardline right which opposes any concessions to the Palestinians. Despite his resignation from the cabinet, he remained a member of parliament and leader of Yisrael Beitenu which merged with Likud in October 2012. A debate on the future of that alliance is to be held by Lieberman's party on November 24. During his enforced sabbatical from the cabinet, Lieberman still held a position of influence thanks to his role as chairman of the high-profile parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and defence. The position of foreign minister was temporarily filled by Netanyahu who reportedly promised Lieberman he would keep the position open for him until the completion of the trial.
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