Shas Urges End to Deri Affair, Decides Not to Quit Government

The leadership of the Shas party, calling for an end to what it terms an unfair campaign against Interior Minister Arye Deri, nevertheless has no intention of quitting the Likud-led coalition over the issue.

Deri, 31, a protege of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas’s pre-eminent spiritual mentor, is suspected of improper disbursement of ministerial funds and other financial improprieties.

The probe is being conducted by the Justice and Police ministries, both controlled by Likud.

The four rabbis of Shas’ Council of Sages, headed by Yosef, urged Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir on Wednesday night to put an end to the “unfair campaign of leaks and defamation of character” they implied the police were waging against Deri.

The council called the young Cabinet member “an emissary of the rabbis, honest and loyal, active and successful on behalf of Torah and education, who has raised the profile of Sephardic Jewry.”

Communications Minister Rafael Pinhasi of Shas demanded that the police either bring formal charges or drop the case.

Police Minister Ronni Milo responded in a television interview Wednesday night that the investigation would be expedited if Deri stopped stonewalling and cooperated with the authorities.

Deri, for his part, accused the police of dropping innuendos and tendentious leaks for three months before they got around to questioning him only last week.

The police wanted to be seen “going through the motions,” Deri charged and said he would not answer their questions at this stage.

The police, meanwhile, are coordinating their investigation of Deri with evidence that the minister and his aides illegally arranged to tap the telephone of Yediot Achronot reporter Mordechai Gilat, who broke the Deri story.

A former police officer, Ilan Hamra, told reporters Wednesday that he tapped Gilat’s phone and handed the tapes to a Shas aide, Yossi Tsuberi, for delivery to Deri.

Tsuberi was arrested with the evidence and released on bail. He claimed Deri knew nothing of the matter.

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