- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009

JERUSALEM | Israeli police questioned the new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, for more than seven hours Thursday on suspicion of bribery and money laundering.

Mr. Lieberman, an ultranationalist who became Israel’s top diplomat Tuesday, has denied any wrongdoing and has called the police probe into his affairs a smear campaign.

His anti-Arab rhetoric has alarmed Palestinians and Arab leaders in the region.

“Avigdor Lieberman was questioned under caution by police today for seven-and-a-half hours on suspicion of carrying out the following: bribery, money laundering and breach of trust,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

The questioning was part of a years-long investigation, details of which were not made available by the police.

Israeli media said Mr. Lieberman was suspected of receiving bribes through a consulting firm run by his daughter.

He has been questioned before, but not as foreign minister.

Mr. Lieberman had asked Israeli courts to have the investigation expedited, arguing that it was unreasonable for a public figure to be subjected to allegations that cast a stain on his character.

“This is the same investigation that has been ongoing for the past 13 years and which he has petitioned the courts to have speeded up,” a Lieberman spokeswoman said.

“He cooperated fully with police investigators and answered all their questions and enjoyed drinking their coffee.”

An Israeli television report quoted police sources as saying further questioning was likely and the investigation could be completed within two months.

The Foreign Ministry said Mr. Lieberman spoke to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during the day, their first call since he took office, to arrange a first meeting.

Soviet-born Mr. Lieberman campaigned for a Feb. 10 Israeli election on a slogan “no loyalty, no citizenship,” seen as urging the deportation of Israeli Arab citizens charged with involvement with or advocating the actions of militants based in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The election was triggered by a corruption scandal that forced Ehud Olmert, who was leader of the centrist Kadima party, to resign as prime minister, though he remained as caretaker until Tuesday, when Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s new prime minister, was sworn in.

While in office, Mr. Olmert was questioned repeatedly by the police. He denies any wrongdoing.

Last month, former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was indicted for rape and other sexual offenses against three women who used to work for him, charges that he denies.

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