JERUSALEM — Israel’s tough-talking former foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, pleaded not guilty on Sunday to charges of fraud and breach of trust in a criminal case that leaves his political future hanging in the balance.
A senior political partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Lieberman made his plea, through a lawyer, in a short court appearance as his trial opened.
He is accused of having promoted Israel’s former ambassador to Belarus for another post after the ambassador provided him with classified information relating to a police investigation into his financial affairs.
As the trial opens, Netanyahu is engaged in delicate negotiations to form a new governing coalition after the January elections in which Lieberman ran as Netanyahu’s No. 2 on a joint rightist ticket.
‘‘We are very pleased; we’ve passed the preliminaries,’’ one of Lieberman’s lawyers, Jacob Weinroth, told reporters after Sunday’s session, adding, ‘‘We want this to end quickly and we want it to end well.’’
The next four court sessions were set for late April and early May.
Lieberman will not be eligible for a ministerial post unless he is acquitted, but he has indicated that he intends to clear his name and return to the Cabinet. Earlier this month he told Israeli television that the foreign affairs portfolio would remain with Netanyahu pending the conclusion of the trial.
Lieberman, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, rose to prominence as the leader of the ultranationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu.
New York Times