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Hatzeira Says His Legal Problems Have Not Entered His Talks with Begin over Forming New Government

Aharon Abu Hatzeira, whose three-member Tami faction is the key to a Likud coalition majority in the next Knesset, insisted yesterday that his legal problems have not entered into his discussions with Premier Menachem Begin over the formation of a new government.

They have “nothing whatever to do” with it, he told reporters after a meeting with Begin. He was referring to press reports that his price for joining a Likud-led coaltion was immunity from trial on charges of fraud and embezzlement from a charitable organization he administered while serving as Mayor of Ramle five years ago.

Hatzeira, Religious Affairs Minister in the outgoing government, was indicted several months ago and stripped of his Knesset immunity. His trial was postponed until after the June 30 elections. According to press reports, his attorneys will argue that the action by the Ninth Knesset does not carry over into the Tenth and that the new Knesset will have to vote all over again to determine whether Hatzeira can be tried.

NEW KNESSET BOUND BY EARLIER ACTION

This has led to speculation that he is demanding a guarantee from Begin that all coalition parties in the next Knesset will vote against lifting his immunity. The influential daily Haaretz warned Begin this week not to be a party to such machinations. But the matter will be decided by the courts.

Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir was quoted as saying this week that he believed the Ninth Knesset’s decision to revoke Hatzeira’s immunity is binding on the Tenth Knesset. The Tel Aviv district court judge who will hear the arguments said that legal point will have to be settled before Hatzeira’s trial can begin.

Begin needs Tami’s three Knesset mandates to achieve a 61-seat parliamentary majority. His meeting with Hatzeira yesterday was believed to have been over possible Cabinet portfolios. Hatzeira made it clear that he wants to retain the Religious Affairs Ministry which is also demanded by the National Religious Party. But he has reportedly hinted that he would accept the Labor and Social Welfare Ministry as an alternative.

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