NEW: Avigdor Liberman hints that if charges are settled he may return to political arena
Liberman is to be charged with breach of trust and fraud; he denies wrongdoing
His party, Yisrael Beiteinu, is the second biggest in the governing coalition in Israel
Israel is due to hold elections on January 22
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman announced Friday he would resign, a day after the country’s Ministry of Justice said he would be charged with breach of trust and fraud.
He said in a statement that he must resign from his government position “in light of the circumstances of the case and details of the indictment.”
Liberman maintains he has “not violated any laws.”
His resignation comes five weeks ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for January 22.
Immediately following the announcement of the charges, Liberman said he would fight to stay in office.
However, less than 24 hours later he had changed his mind after looking over the charges with his attorneys and advisers on campaign law.
Liberman is a big player in the current political makeup of Israel and had just formed a coalition with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his party, Likud.
But Liberman’s statement gave a hint that he may try to settle the case before the snap election is held.
“I am doing this also because I believe that the citizens of Israel are entitled to go to the polls after the matter has been decided on, that is to say, that a legal ruling will be decided on before the elections and this way I will be able to continue to serve the state of Israel and its citizens as part of a strong, united leadership that would tackle the security, diplomatic, and economic challenges facing Israel,” the statement said.
Liberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu, said he will remain on the ticket and still run in the upcoming elections.
The charges of breach of trust and fraud relate to a case dating to 2009.
Prosecutors said Liberman pushed to get the Israeli Ambassador to Belarus posted to another country after the diplomat allegedly handed over confidential information that included details of a secret police inquiry pertaining to Liberman.
However, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said Thursday that Liberman would not face more serious corruption charges including money laundering and witness tampering, because of insufficient evidence.
That decision closed a case that has spanned more than a decade and allegedly involved hundreds of millions of dollars transferred through foreign businessmen to companies Liberman owned while he was serving as a Knesset member and minister.
He has long denied all the allegations. “I have always operated according to the law and I have no reason to worry,” Liberman said last year.
Liberman has faced international criticism for his hard-line stance on Israel’s Arab minorities.
His ultra-nationalist party, the second-largest in the governing coalition, is especially popular with immigrants from the former Soviet Union, where Liberman was born and raised.
CNN’s Pierre Meilhan and Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report.