Israel's Lieberman takes stand in graft trial

Israel's Lieberman takes stand in graft trial

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday said he had done nothing wrong as he took the stand for the first time during his trial on charges of fraud and breach of trust, public radio said AFP reported.

Lieberman is suspected of trying to secure an ambassadorial posting for Israeli diplomat Zeev Ben Aryeh who provided him with confidential information about a police investigation into his affairs in 2008.

Earlier this month, ex-deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon testified that Lieberman had pushed him to give an ambassadorial posting to Ben Aryeh.

Speaking at Jerusalem Magistrates Court on Wednesday, Lieberman said Ben Aryeh had indeed given him the information in question "as a good deed" but he said it was useless and that he had immediately destroyed the papers.

"The information was not useful to me. I tore the documents up and threw them in the toilet," the radio quoted him as saying.

Lieberman's lawyer insisted the receipt of the confidential information was "not an offense".

When the trial opened on Feb. 17, Lieberman pleaded not guilty to the charges in a case which will decide his political future.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is temporarily holding the foreign affairs portfolio, in the hope he can reinstate his ally once the legal proceedings finish.

Testifying on May 2, Ayalon said Lieberman had in 2009 asked him to nominate Ben Aryeh as Israel's ambassador to Latvia, saying he was "the best candidate".

According to the indictment, Lieberman, who was serving as just an MP at the time, was tipped off by Israel's Belarus ambassador Ben Aryeh that Israeli police had contacted their counterparts in Minsk for help with an inquiry into his affairs.

He is suspected of then seeking to reward Ben Aryeh with a posting to Latvia.

Lieberman, an outspoken hardliner who has been investigated by police several times since 1996, has expressed confidence he will be cleared on all charges and return to the Foreign Ministry.

Lieberman's main concern will be to avoid a conviction including both a finding of "moral turpitude" and a prison sentence, which would bar him from serving as a minister for seven years.

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