Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and his wife, Yaffa, were being questioned separately by police on Monday morning, hours after officers arrested 14 other people in connection with a corruption probe against them.
Among those arrested were senior officials from the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, headed by Deri. One of the suspects, the director of a government ministry, was questioned under caution in the case.
Deri, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, and his wife are suspected of offenses related to property deals and possible tax evasion.
The investigation, which began in April 2016 and is being run in conjunction with the Tax Authority, was expanded as other discoveries were made, a police spokeswoman said.
She said that several people were under suspicion “including a public official and his wife.” The arrests were made so that the suspects would not be able to tamper with the inquiry.
Last year, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit authorized the National Fraud Investigation Unit to launch the criminal investigation into Deri’s dealings.
The details of the investigation are under gag order, but it apparently revolves around unreported real estate owned by Deri and members of his family, including a vacation home in northern Israel and apartments owned by each of his nine children.
Drone footage shows that the vacation home, in the town of Safsufa near Safed, features a pool and a large patio.
Deri, who served a prison sentence for graft offenses that took place during his previous tenure as interior minister in the 1990s, has sought to downplay the allegations and said he would cooperate with the investigation to prove his innocence.
A spokesman for the minister said last week, “The interior minister said from the first moment that he would cooperate fully and would answer any questions. Minister Deri relies on the law enforcement authorities to do their work in a responsible and proper manner.”
In the past few weeks the investigation has drawn close to its final stage, after police gathered evidence that they will present to Deri and his wife during their interrogation on Monday.
When he was appointed interior minister, Deri’s declaration of capital included property whose value was estimated at NIS 5 million ($1.32 million). That included his apartment in Har Nof, Jerusalem, valued at NIS 4.7 million ($1.24 million), NIS 10,000 in savings ($2,645), a stock portfolio worth NIS 300,000 ($79,350) and a NIS 60,000 ($15,870) car registered in the name of his wife.
Reports say Deri had made some NIS 2 million ($530,000) from consultancy following his release from jail.
A year ago Deri’s brother Shlomo was also questioned by police as part of the same investigation. He dismissed any allegations of wrongdoing, claiming that the media was targeting his brother because of his success.
Deri served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002 after he was convicted of taking bribes while serving as interior minister, and returned to politics earlier this decade.
He reclaimed the leadership of his Shas party shortly before last year’s Knesset elections, replacing Eli Yishai. He returned to his Interior Ministry post earlier this year after a court ruled his prior conviction did not disqualify him from the post.