JERUSALEM – A day after government prosecutors announced plans to indict him for breach of trust, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Friday he would step down from office and focus on resolving the criminal case against him.
Most viewed the resignation as a strategic move on the part of the combative right-wing politician rather than a capitulation.
Lieberman, who has denied any wrongdoing, hinted that he would attempt to reach a plea bargain in the charges before the Jan. 22 national election. He will remain a candidate in the poll and is virtually assured a seat in the next Knesset, or parliament.
“Following 16 years of investigations against me, I will now be able to end this matter quickly and without delays and finally clear my name,’’ Lieberman said Friday in a statement.
His decision followed Thursday’s announcement by Atty. Gen. Yehuda Weinstein that Lieberman would be indicted on charges of promoting the Israeli ambassador of Belarus after the diplomat gave him confidential materials related to the government probe against Lieberman.
But at the same time, prosecutors dropped a more serious money-laundering case that alleged Lieberman secretly received millions of dollars from businesspeople through shell companies.
It remained unclear who would replace Lieberman as foreign minister during the next two months, until a new government is elected and formed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might opt to absorb the duties himself during the interim period or appoint a caretaker minister, government officials said.
Lieberman will remain head of the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, which is running in next month's elections on a joint slate with Netanyahu’s Likud party.
If he is unable to resolve the criminal case before the elections, Lieberman could still serve in the Knesset while the case is pending, but he would be unable to serve as a top minister.