Shas Leader Loses Immunity, Paving Way for Court Trial

The Knesset has voted to remove the parliamentary immunity of the leader of the Shas party, who is now expected to stand trial before the end of the year on charges of bribery and misappropriation of funds.

Knesset member Aryeh Deri resigned as interior minister on Sept. 12 following a ruling from the High Court of Justice requiring him to step down because of the charges of financial misconduct that had been brought against him.

After Deri made the announcement last month that he would leave his post, officials of his fervently Orthodox Sephardic party said they would withdraw from the Labor-led coalition, which they joined when the government was formed last year.

Deri, in his mid-30s, had been interior minister for more than six years.

Following the Knesset vote, legal sources here said the charge sheet against Deri would be formally submitted to the Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday.

The Knesset voted on Deri’s immunity during an open session Tuesday evening. The day before, the Knesset had ruled that votes on removing parliamentary immunity would no longer be conducted by secret ballot, as they had in the past.

The vote was 65-9, with one abstention.

There was no real tension surrounding the vote, since Deri himself had said he wanted his immunity waived so that he could prove his innocence in court.

But there was drama in the Knesset nonetheless when Deri made a speech accusing the state prosecution of a lack of good faith in its three-year investigation into the allegations against him.

Justice Minister David Libai, who was among the two dozen speakers in the debate before the vote, vigorously rejected Deri’s charges.

Libai argued that Justice Ministry and senior police officials would hardly have risked crossing swords with so powerful a political figure as Deri had their motives been improper or their case weak.

Along with Deri’s fate in court, the question remains whether the Shas party will rejoin the governing coalition.

Though it was not a formal decision, Shas in effect seceded from the coalition after the High Court of Justice ruled in September that Deri had to step down from his ministerial position.

Labor Party officials are hoping Shas will return to the coalition, which includes the liberal Meretz bloc. But Shas spokesmen demand that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin restate the party’s position on the peace process with unambiguous language: that Jerusalem remain Israel’s undivided capital; and there be no Palestinian state.

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