Israel minister who served jail time faces new crime probe

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri is an ultra-Orthodox party leader who has already served prison time for graft

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Israeli authorities are to conduct a criminal investigation into new corruption allegations against Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, an ultra-Orthodox party leader who has already served prison time for graft.

“At the conclusion of a meeting held today by the attorney general (Avichai Mandelblit) regarding the examination relating to minister Deri and others... the attorney general decided to move from an examination to a criminal investigation,” the justice ministry said late on Thurday.

It did not elaborate, other than to remind journalists of a court order barring publication of details of the probe into Deri, who has previously served 22 months in prison on graft charges.

Hebrew-language daily Maariv said that police were expected to question him under caution in the next few days.

The minister has said he is ready to “respond to all questions.”

Deri, who heads Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party Shas, became interior minister in January after the resignation from the post of Silvan Shalom following allegations of sexual harassment.

Shas is vital to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing governing coalition, which holds a one-seat majority in parliament.

Deri, who had served as interior minister from 1988 to 1993, was sentenced to three years in prison in 2000 for taking $155,000 in bribes, though his sentence was reduced by a third for good behaviour.

He resigned as economy minister in November after refusing to overrule anti-trust authorities’ objections to a major natural gas deal being pushed by Netanyahu.

His resignation allowed Netanyahu to take over the economy minister post himself and move ahead on the gas deal.

In January, critics of his appointment as interior minister said the post should not be granted to someone who had been convicted for corruption. Others argued that Deri had paid his debt to society.

The interior ministry oversees local government and efforts to prevent illegal immigration. The police fall under a separate ministry.

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