Israel's New Foreign Minister Questioned by Cops ... Again

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's controversial new foreign minister, can't keep his name off the front pages, it seems.

In a speech on his first day in the new job Wednesday, he appeared to blow away a year of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. On days two and three, he has spent a combined 12 hours being interviewed by the police. And there's more questioning to come, authorities have warned him.

He has been questioned in connection with an alleged bribery, money-laundering and fraud scheme, in which he has denied any involvement. He has not been charged.

The Israeli police have been investigating the politician's complicated business dealings for several years.

The most serious component of the investigation centers on allegations of money laundering. Police have been pursuing this line of inquiry since the beginning of 2007 and have confiscated thousands of files from Lieberman's lawyer and from Cyprus, where authorities say the financial dealings occurred.

Police say they are investigating whether Lieberman laundered large sums of money through a Cypriot bank account held by his daughter Michal. She and several of Lieberman's close associates have also been questioned in recent months.

After Thursday's seven hours of interrogation and before today's five hours, Lieberman's office issued a statement that appeared to make light of the matter.

"This is the same investigation that has lasted 13 years, with [Lieberman] even submitting an appeal to the High Court of Justice in order to expedite the matter," the statement said. "Today he cooperated, answered his interrogators' questions and enjoyed police coffee."

Will the Hard-Liner Have to Exit the Political Stage?

The hard-line politician heads a party that is an important coalition partner in the new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. February's general election gave his Israel Our Home faction a much larger share of the vote than expected, making it the third largest in the Knesset, or parliament.

His political views are considered racist by many. He has long been vehemently critical of Israel's Arab minority population andin this year's election campaign promoted a policy of loyalty tests, which threatened to take away their citizenship.

His uncompromising opening speech in the foreign ministry set off alarm bells in Western capitals, including Washington, which has invested heavily in recent Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

The new Israeli government appears unwilling to endorse the creation of a Palestinian state, an idea that is at the heart of U.S. policy. Netanyahu and his officials studiously avoided any criticism of Lieberman's comments this week.

If Lieberman is indicted by the police, he will be forced from the political stage to answer his accusers. But his exit alone won't necessarily soften the new government's uncompromising tone.

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