JERUSALEM (Aug. 2)
Proceedings to lift the parliamentary immunity of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri began Monday, when Attorney General Yosef Harish presented the Knesset with an indictment against the minister.
Deri, who heads the fervently Orthodox Shas party, a member of the governing coalition, is charged with committing acts of bribery, fraud and breach of the public trust.
Harish, still angry about his failure to get the Knesset to lift the immunity of another Shas Knesset member, Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs Raphael Pinhasi, did not show up at the Knesset in person, but instead sent the indictment sheet with a messenger.
This infuriated Hagai Meirom, chairman of the Knesset House Committee, which is charged with dealing with the matter.
He was also angry at Harish for submitting the indictment two days before the Knesset adjourns for its summer recess.
Meirom went so far as to blame the attorney general for deliberate tactics to slow down the legal process, since the indictment sheet has been ready for the past two weeks.
Meirom said, however, that he did not know of any agreement between the prosecution and the defense to postpone the parliamentary process of lifting Deri’s immunity until after the Knesset reconvenes Oct. 15.
Even if such an agreement had been made, stressed Meirom, it would not be honored by the Knesset committee.
In March, the Knesset voted to strip Pinhasi of his parliamentary immunity so that he could face fraud charges connected to his position as treasurer of the Shas party.
DERI URGED TO STEP DOWN
But last month, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the vote was invalid, since Pinhasi was not given an adequate opportunity to present his case to Knesset members before the balloting.
Last week, the Knesset voted again, and this time, those opposing lifting Pinhasi’s immunity won, by a vote of 54-50.
As a result, he cannot now be prosecuted.
Deri, meanwhile, has reportedly been charged on four major counts:
*passing public funds to his own account, and receiving a bribe of $183,000;
*conspiracy to receive money on false grounds from the Religious Affairs and Interior ministries;
*Fraud and breach of trust to alter the legal status of certain plots of land in order to allow construction of houses;
*appointing a close friend as head of a municipal council, although that person did not have the qualifications for the job.
According to the charge sheet, the prosecution is intending to summon some 230 prosecution witnesses.
Among them are the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, former Police Inspector-General Ya’acov Terner and three journalists.
The charge sheet reportedly mentions dozens of checks that have allegedly been deposited in Deri’s bank account.
Education Minister Amnon Rubinstein urged Deri on Monday to suspend himself from office immediately and to agree to lifting his immunity, so that the truth can be determined in court.
Deri has agreed to suspend himself from office only after the charge sheet is presented in court. Justice Minister David Libai, however, shares the view that Deri should go on leave or suspend himself immediately.