Israeli ultra-Orthodox party leader resigns over graft

Jerusalem (AFP) – The leader of Israel’s largest ultra-Orthodox Jewish party submitted his resignation from parliament Sunday, after reaching a plea deal with prosecutors in a tax fraud case.

Aryeh Deri, who served as ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s interior minister, leads the Shas party, the third largest bloc in Israel’s fractured parliament with nine of the Knesset’s 120s seats.

Last month Deri reached a plea deal with Israel’s attorney general that is set to be validated in court this week, which will see him admit to minor tax offences.

Under the deal, Deri will avoid prison but pay a 180,000 shekel ($57,000) fine and resign from the Knesset.

Knesset spokesman Uri Michael told AFP that Deri had submitted a resignation letter to speaker Mickey Levy on Sunday morning, and that it would take effect on Tuesday.

Deri is however expected to remain the leader of Shas, a party that represents Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Jews, whose roots are in southern Europe and North Africa.

Support from Shas, along with United Torah Judaism, the second largest ultra-Orthodox Jewish party, was crucial to sustaining Netanyahu’s record tenure as premier, which ran from 2009 until June last year.

Netanyahu’s legal team is also in talks with the attorney general’s office on a possible plea agreement in his alleged corruption case, in which he is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust but denies any wrongdoing.

In Netanyahu’s case, prosecutors have reportedly insisted that Netanyahu admit to “moral turpitude,” which would bar him from elected office for seven years, terms that were not imposed on Deri.