Aharon AbuhatziraAharon Abu-Hatzeira took the witness stand this week to defend himself against charges that he misappropriated public funds while administering a charitable institution when he was Mayor of Ramle five years ago. Abu-Hatzeira, who is Minister of Labor and Social Welfare in Premier Menachem Begin’s government, temporarily relinquished his Cabinet post when his trial opened two months ago.

He said, in his first day of testimony Sunday, that checks made out to him which the prosecution alleges were kick-backs were, in actuality, repayments of loans he had made to needy people out of his own pocket. He said checks made out to his wife had been loans to her and that he had arranged for repayment when he learned they were overdue.

According to Abu-Hatzeira, he was too busy to spend much time administering the fund and left the details to his aide, Moshe Gabai, who is a co-defendant.