AFTER wriggling out of one Cabinet crisis only three weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin now faces another that threatens to bring his government down.
The draft indictment on fraud and corruption charges served Sunday night on Interior Minister Aryeh Deri heralds a major battle over his parliamentary immunity, according to political observers.
Rabbi Deri, leader of the ultra-orthodox Shas Party, a key partner in Mr. Rabin's governing coalition, is to be charged with fraud, accepting bribes, and violating the public trust, according to the draft indictment sent by Attorney General Yosef Harish.
Much political maneuvering is expected before the crisis blows up. Deri has three weeks in which to appeal to Mr. Harish to drop the charges, and if that fails, the Knesset (parliament) is not expected to debate lifting his immunity before it recesses on August 4. Under Israeli law, a formal indictment can be handed down only when the Knesset has lifted a member's immunity.
The charges stem from Deri's stewardship of the Interior Ministry where he was named deputy director-general at the age of 25 in 1984. He went on to become director-general before being made minister.
The draft indictment refers only to allegations that Deri used public money for personal use. A separate set of allegations that he diverted public money to his party, is still under investigation.
Shas has come under close judicial scrutiny of late for the way in which it has built itself into the most powerful of the ultra-orthodox parties in little more than a decade.
A former Shas member of the Knesset, Yair Levy, is currently serving a five-year jail term for corruption; the Shas deputy religious affairs minister, Raphael Pinhasi, has lost his parliamentary immunity and faces trial for violating the law governing party finances; and another dozen senior Shas figures are under police investigation.