Police to question Deri for second time in graft probe
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Police to question Deri for second time in graft probe

Ex-convict interior minister and Shas chairman under investigation for money laundering, fraud, breach of trust and tax offenses

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and his wife Yaffa, seen leaving their home in Jerusalem, May 29, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and his wife Yaffa, seen leaving their home in Jerusalem, May 29, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri is to be questioned under caution for a second time on Monday, a week after he was interrogated for a marathon 11 hours over a slew of corruption allegations.

The minister will be questioned by police investigators from the Lahav 433 Serious Crimes Unit, on suspicion of money laundering, fraud and breach of trust, theft by an authorized person, fraudulent registration, and tax offenses, according to police.

Deri’s wife, Yaffa, is also suspected of various financial crimes, including tax evasion and using money donated to her nonprofit organization to purchase real estate.

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 fully with the investigation to prove his innocence.

Last Monday, the minister and his wife were questioned separately by Lahav 433 investigators for over 11 hours.

Hours before they were questioned, police detained 14 people in connection with the graft probe for questioning. Among those questioned were Israeli-Georgian businessman and philanthropist Mikhael Mirilashvili along with several senior officials from the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, also headed by Deri.

Yaffa Deri, wife of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri on May 17, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yaffa Deri, wife of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri on May 17, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The investigation into Deri, which police began in April 2016 together with the Tax Authority, initially focused on unreported real estate property owned by Deri and members of his family, including a vacation home in northern Israel and apartments owned by each of his nine children.

It has since expanded to include various graft allegations.

At the center of the probe is Mifalot Simcha, the nonprofit organization run by Yaffa Deri for the past 18 years. Mifalot Simcha operates educational institutions for female students and according to reports, also employs three of the couple’s daughters.

Police last week were reportedly considering asking that Deri, who also heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, be suspended from his duties as interior minister, as the graft allegations constitute a possible conflict of interest.

Israeli-Georgian tycoon and philanthropist Mikhael Mirilashvili. (YouTube screenshot)
Israeli-Georgian tycoon and philanthropist Mikhael Mirilashvili. (YouTube screenshot)

As a member of Knesset, Deri enjoys parliamentary immunity, so police would require the approval of the attorney general, as well as the Knesset itself, to implement any direct sanctions against the interior minister without his agreement.

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.

Deri served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002, after he was convicted of taking bribes while serving as interior minister.

He reclaimed the leadership of his Shas party shortly before 2015’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.

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