Minister to Be Charged with Taking Bribes

Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir announced today that he will bring charger against Minister of Religious Affairs Aharon Abu Hatzeira an account of taking bribes from three religious institutions in B’nei Brok. Zamir informed Premier Menachem Begin and Knesset speaker Yitzhak Berman of his decision which was taken after weeks of careful study of eight separate police files against the Religious Affairs Minister.

The next stage in the legal process will transpire in the Knesset’s House Committee, where Zamir will ask that Abu Hatzeira be stripped of his immunity.

House Committee chairman Mashe Meron of Likud’s Liberal Party said tonight that he hoped to keep the Committee’s deliberations short to avoid further protraction of the case.

Knesset Speaker Berman said his own view, based on past experience of immunity hearings involving Knesset members was that the House Committee should consider solely whether the government was in some way persecuting the suspected MK or otherwise interfering with his role as an MK or with the work of the Knesset as such. The House Committee should not, said Berman, enter into the merits of the case in question.

But that is not a universally accepted view. National Religious Party faction chairman Yehuda Ben-Meir, said tonight that he believed the committee must “examine the basis of the Attorney General’s request for removal of immunity” to see “if there is a primo facie case.”

Ben-Meir urged the public to “learn a lesson” from the fact that Hatzeira would be charged on only one bribery count although the press over the past months has “accused him of practically every crime under the sun.”

Ben-Meir said he was not minimizing the gravity of the alleged offense. He was merely pointing out that many other issues cited during Hatzeira’s “trial by press” had not been considered by the Attorney General to be worthy of charges

Ben-Meir noted too that the bribery charge seemed to be based on the evidence of State witness Yisrael Gottleib, the NRP official and former Mayor of B’nei Brok. Hatzeira’s attorneys have argued all along that Gottleig’s evidence is insufficiently credible or that Gottleib himself is insufficiently trustworthy. They are expected to press that argument before the House Committee and in court.

DECISION EXPLAINED

Zamir called a press conference where he distributed the charge sheet, signed by State Attorney Gabriel Bach, and explained his decision. He said he had turned down police recommendations to bring charges based on five separate files against Hatzeiro. A sixth file, involving suspected election bribes in Ramle in 1978, was also found locking after long consideration.

The two remaining files concerned suspicious allegations that Hatzeiro had received bribes in 1978 and 1979 from three separate B’nei Brak Torah institutions in return for inflating his Ministry’s allocations to them.

Charged along with Hatzeira are his senior aide, Moshe Gabbai. Both men are to be arraigned for taking bribes. Shmuel Daskal of Vishnitz Yeshiva and Amrom Daskal of the “Yeminite Heritage Institute,” are charged with giving the bribes.

A third institution involved is the Spinka Yeshiva in B’nei Brak, whose director, Herman Fruchter, is apparently to be a State witness with Gottleib. According to the charge sheet, Gottleib arranged the deals and transmitted the monies to the aide, Gobbai, after having reached the various agreements in conversations with the Minister. Moreover, Gottleib reported directly to the Minister on the completion of the various deals.

Among the sums cited in the charge sheet is one of IL250,000 from the Vishnitz institutions and another of IL225,000 from the Spinka institutions, 30th are Hasodic courts in B’nei Brak.

Sources close to Abu Hatzeira were cited tonight by Kol Israel Radio as being “surprised” that the Attorney General decided to press charges on the basis of the evidence at his disposal. Abu Hotzeira was said to be confident that his innocence would be proven. He was said to feel a victim of “the greatest manhunt this country has ever witnessed.”

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