Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's letter of resignation on Sunday, after Lieberman said he would like to have his case go to court as soon as possible. Netanyahu will serve as foreign minister until a new government is formed after the national election in January.
Netanyahu said on Friday that he hoped Lieberman will prove his innocence as soon as possible in the only remaining case against him and return to serve as a senior minister in the government.
"Overall the past four years in the government and the Foreign Ministry were quite fascinating," Lieberman told the press on Sunday, shortly before tendering his letter of resignation. "I am saying good-bye, but only for now; I believe I will be back in no time," Lieberman said.
Lieberman announced his planned resignation on Friday, a day after Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein decided to indict him on charges of fraud and breach of trust in the case of Israel's former ambassador to Belorussia. He submitted his letter on Sunday just before the weekly cabinet meeting.
At Sunday's impromptu press conference, Lieberman elaborated on his decision to step down as minister despite his statements to the contrary on Thursday, shortly after he was informed of Weinstein's decision. "I hope this [my trial] will see a quick resolution," Lieberman said. "I have no plans to sign a plea bargain, my goal is to hold a trial, which is the right and proper way of dealing with this. I hope it is over quickly. I don't know where those rumors [that I want a plea bargain] have come from. Arthur Finkelstein [his campaign guru] and I have not talked about this move; not a single word was communicated [between us]," he stressed.
Lieberman went on to say that "Although I know that I didn't violate any law, after so many years of enduring legal scrutiny, investigations and wire taps, I will finally be able to put this last issue — which even senior legal experts say does not amount to a criminal offense — behind me and I have decided to resign as foreign minister and deputy prime minister."
The charges against Lieberman stem from a case that began in 2009 when Lieberman promoted then ambassador to Belarus, Ze'ev Ben-Aryeh, and appointed him as Israel's chief diplomat in Latvia, after Ben-Aryeh provided him with unauthorized information on a police investigation into a corruption case against him.
Investigations on various charges of breach of trust, money laundering through shell companies and harassing of a witness have been underway against the foreign minister on and off since 1998. Weinstein's initial draft indictment in April 2011 included several additional charges than those mentioned by Weinstein in his final announcement on Thursday. The attorney-general said that he decided to drop most of the charges due to lack of sufficient evidence.
On Sunday Lieberman also requested that his immunity as an MK against legal prosecution be lifted. "I will be able to conclude this matter swiftly and without delays, and clear my name absolutely," he said.
Commenting on Lieberman's decision, a senior Likud-Beytenu campaign official said "His resignation will prevent the Left from using this issue in their campaigns and force parties to focus on the more important issues, such as Israel's foreign and security matters."
In the wake of Lieberman's resignation from the government on Sunday and his waiving of his Knesset immunity, the state prosecution is expected to submit its indictment of Lieberman to the court. Lieberman is limited in his capacity as a government official, but he can still run for a Knesset seat, as he said he would. If he is convicted and serves an active prison term of more than three months, and if the judges decide that his actions carry moral turpitude, he would be banned from politics for seven years (unless he gets a special waiver).
A Justice Ministry official said on Friday "The indictment has been prepared and we will agree to an expedited trial if the defense asks for one." Other ministry officials however said they doubt a trial would take place in the near future due to the state prosecution's heavy workload and the fact that the decision would be up to the presiding judge. Some officials believe the case may end with a plea bargain.