Jerusalem - An Israeli court on Wednesday acquitted Avigdor Lieberman on corruption charges in a move welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who hailed his anticipated return to government as foreign minister.
The verdict, reached by a panel of three judges at the Jerusalem Magistrates Court, means the outspoken hardliner is free to return to a commanding position within the coalition, in a move which could have implications for Israel's peace talks with the Palestinians.
But his return to the cabinet would be frozen if Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein were to file an appeal.
"I congratulate you on your unanimous acquittal and am happy about your returning to the government so that we can continue working together for the good of Israel," Netanyahu said in a statement.
The stocky 55-year-old former nightclub bouncer was put on trial on charges of fraud and breach of trust over his appointment of Israeli diplomat Zeev Ben Aryeh to the post of ambassador to Latvia after he tipped Lieberman off about a police probe into his affairs.
The prosecution said the appointment was given as a reward and represented a severe conflict of interests, particularly as Lieberman had not made anyone aware of Ben Aryeh's tip-off.
Although the judges agreed he had engaged in "inappropriate conduct", they did not find it worthy of a criminal conviction, announcing his acquittal in a court hearing which lasted just minutes, public radio reported.
"I want to thank the court," said a jubilant Lieberman after the hearing.
"After 17 years [of investigations], it is behind me. I am putting this matter behind me and I look forward to the challenges ahead."