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Shas Will Stick by Its Man in Fraud and Forgery Case

The religious parties in the Knesset have served notice they will fight any move to waive the parliamentary immunity of Shas Knesset member Yair Levy so the attorney general can prosecute him on charges of fraud and forgery.

Levy was officially informed of the charges Wednesday by Knesset Speaker Dov Shilansky. He was told that State Attorney General Yosef Harish has asked the Knesset to strip him of his immunity to legal action, a privilege enjoyed by every Knesset member.

The request goes to the Knesset’s House Committee and, if approved, will be sent to the plenum for a secret ballot. Political observers say it would win a majority.

Details of the charges against Levy were not immediately available to the media but are connected with his position as director general of El Hama’ayan, the educational network of the Shas party, whose constituents are Orthodox Sephardic Jews.

The charges are understood to involve checks in the tens of thousands of dollars drawn on El Hama’ayan and allegedly endorsed by Levy and his wife with the forged signatures of ostensible beneficiaries.

Levy has denied wrongdoing for personal gain and contends that any irregularities would be of a purely technical nature.

His colleague, Arye Gamliel, also a member of the Shas Knesset faction, insisted the charges are “political.”

The attorney general’s move capped more than a year of police investigations into alleged financial improprieties by Shas leaders.

Principal among them is Interior Minister Arye Deri, who has been accused of channeling government funds to institutions favored by Shas. But no charges have yet been filed against Deri.

Shas and the three other religious parties have a combined total of 17 mandates in the 120-members Knesset and are essential to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s governing coalition.

There was no speculation this week over how the prosecution of Levy would affect the stability of Shamir’s government, given the party’s frequent threats to quit over what it calls police harassment.

But Deri and Levy insist that police inquiries into their activities would not trigger a political revolt by Shas.

Shilansky, meanwhile, cautioned Levy not to go abroad before the Knesset acts on his immunity. Levy said Tuesday that he had planned to visit the United States, where he spent some time recently on what he reported to have been medical leave. But he has since changed his plans.

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