Despite the success of his ultra-Orthodox Shas party in Tuesday’s election, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri may not be able to sit in the next government, according to a report on Wednesday.
State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan is expected to press charges against Deri in relation to a corruption case after the Passover holiday, which would force the minister to vacate any ministerial post, the Ynet news site reported.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to clarify the legal ramifications to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu soon, the report said. The Shas leader has voiced his interest in remaining interior minister in the next government.
In November 2018, police recommended filing charges against Deri on suspicion of committing fraud, breach of trust, obstructing court proceedings, money laundering and tax offenses involving millions of shekels. Some of the incidents allegedly occurred while Deri was a cabinet minister.
Though Netanyahu is also under criminal investigation, Deri’s legal status would be different from the prime minister’s, even if both were indicted. Israeli law stipulates that while a prime minister can continue to hold office until convicted of a crime, a minister must leave his position following an indictment.
Now that a new government is being formed, the attorney general was required to warn the prime minister that the legal status of his minister was about to change, the report said.
Deri is suspected of diverting hundreds of thousands of shekels in state funds to NGOs run by members of his immediate family, as well as suspected tax fraud linked to the sale of apartments to his brother.
Police said the investigation into Deri found evidence of “committing offenses of fraud and breach of trust with respect to his conduct in the case of a businessman while serving as minister, as well as for the commission of tax offenses in significant amounts of millions of shekels, money laundering, disruption of court proceedings and making false statements to the Speaker of the Knesset about his assets and revenues.”
Deri served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002, after he was convicted of taking bribes as interior minister in the 1990s.
He reclaimed the leadership of his Shas party shortly before the 2015 Knesset elections, replacing Eli Yishai. He returned to his Interior Ministry post in 2016, after a court ruled his prior conviction did not disqualify him from the position.
The Shas party was surprisingly successful in the election, winning eight seats to become the third largest party in the Knesset.
As of Thursday afternoon, the heads of Shas, United Torah Judaism, Kulanu and Union of Right-Wing Parties all said they would recommend Netanyahu to form a government, but together with Likud would only have 60 seats between them, one shy of a majority.
Hawkish former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, whose Yisrael Beytenu won five seats according to the near-final results, on Wednesday ruled out joining a Benny Gantz-led coalition, but said teaming up with Netanyahu was not a sure thing.
Netanyahu is a suspect in three criminal probes, dubbed by police as cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, in which investigators have recommended graft indictments. Mandelblit announced in February that he intended to indict Netanyahu in all three cases, pending a hearing, which is expected to take place by July. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.