Israel plans to indict powerful ultra-Orthodox politician

May 27, 2021 GMT

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s attorney general plans to indict a powerful ultra-Orthodox politician on charges of obstruction of justice in connection with the long-delayed extradition of a former teacher accused of sexually abusing her students in Australia.

Yaakov Litzman, a former health minister, is accused of pressuring ministry employees to alter psychiatric evaluations to make it appear Malka Leifer was unfit to stand trial. She was extradited in January after a six-year legal battle that strained relations between Israel and Australia.

Both Litzman and Leifer are members of the country’s insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Litzman, who is currently Israel’s housing minister, is also accused of using his influence to prevent a friend’s deli from being shut down over health concerns.

In a statement, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Litzman allegedly used his position “to advance the interests of private individuals.”

Litzman has denied any wrongdoing, and will have an opportunity to plead his innocence at a hearing in the coming months before the charges are filed.

Litzman is a senior member of an ultra-Orthodox party that has been a key ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who himself is on trial for corruption. Netanyahu is currently fighting to remain in office following four inconclusive elections in two years.