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Shas to Consider Leaving Government, but Deri Says He Won’t Recommend It

Embattled Interior Minister Arye Deri denied Tuesday that the Likud-led coalition government, despite the political storm surrounding him.

Deri, who at 31 is the youngest Cabinet member, is under police investigation for alleged financial improprieties. He has been accused, among other things, of improper disbursement of public funds.

His closest aide, Zvi Jacobson, was ordered held in custody Monday on suspicion of fraud, theft and breach of trust.

The Council of Rabbinic Sages that runs the ultra-Orthodox party is expected to convene Wednesday night to consider the political fallout from the probe.

The investigation is being pursued by the Police and Justice ministries, both controlled by Likud. The Shas sages could order the party to pull out of the government, turning Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s hairline majority into a minority regime.

But Deri said Tuesday that he would not recommend such a course.

“I don’t believe that is what will happen, because in my opinion it is still too early. There is no reason because things can be returned to normal,” he said in an army radio interview.

Nevertheless, an air of suspense will hover over the meeting of Shas elders because of reports from party sources that the movement’s pre-eminent spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, is furious over the investigation.

He was quoted Tuesday as accusing the police of conducting a campaign of character assassination against Deri, his young protege.

Aides to the interior minister called in for questioning by police Sunday included his private secretary, Yaffa Cohen, who happens to be Yosef’s daughter.

Left-wing opposition parties, meanwhile, said they would not exploit a Shas defection to help the Labor Party unseat Shamir’s government.

Labor itself is remaining out of the fray. Party leader Shimon Peres said Tuesday that the police investigation must continue untrammeled by any political consideration.

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