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Aryeh Deri admits to tax offenses as part of plea deal, will resign from Knesset

Attorney-general confirms agreement won’t see Shas party leader charged with moral turpitude, allowing him to run again for office; good-governance group vows High Court appeal

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on July 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shas party leader Aryeh Deri leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on July 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s office formally announced on Thursday that Shas party head Aryeh Deri would be indicted as part of a plea deal in which he will admit to a pair of tax offenses in exchange for resigning from the Knesset and paying a NIS 180,000 fine.

A statement from Mandelblit’s office confirmed he would not seek moral turpitude charges against Deri, allowing the leader of the ultra-Orthodox party to eventually return to the Knesset, as soon as the next elections.

Deri, a former interior minister, previously served time for a bribery conviction before returning to the Knesset in 2013.

In January this year, Mandelblit announced that he intended to file criminal charges against Deri, pending a hearing.

Deri had initially been suspected of bribery when the investigation began five years ago, but Mandelblit ended up accusing him of the lesser offenses of failing to report income to tax authorities on two occasions and additional tax offenses committed while selling Jerusalem apartments to his brother Shlomo Deri.

In 2018, police recommended filing charges against Deri on suspicion of committing fraud, breach of trust, obstructing court proceedings, money laundering and tax offenses involving millions of shekels. In 2019, then-state prosecutor Shai Nitzan similarly recommended charging the Shas chairman, but many of those charges were ultimately dropped earlier this year.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a farewell ceremony held for outgoing state attorney Shai Nitzan at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem on December 18, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In the final plea deal announced Thursday, Deri will admit to just two offenses: failing to accurately report the value of a property he sold to his brother in 2013 — which Deri had valued at NIS 4.25 million ($1.3 million) but was actually worth close to NIS 6 million ($1.9 million); and helping his brother write a false statement about the property’s true value.

Deri said in a statement following the announcement that he had “decided to take responsibility for mistakes that were made without any malevolent intent, to put the affair behind me and avoid an entire trial on the matter.”

He stressed, however, that he would continue to lead the Shas party “with full force and faith.”

Deri served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002, after he was convicted of taking bribes as interior minister in the 1990s. He reclaimed the leadership of Shas shortly before the 2015 Knesset elections, ousting Eli Yishai, who had led the party in his absence.

Former leader of the Shas party Aryeh Deri on his way to Ma’asiyahu prison on September 3, 2000, convicted of taking $155,000 in bribes while serving as interior minister. Deri was given a three-year jail sentence, but was ultimately released after 22 months for good behavior. (Flash90)

He returned to his Interior Ministry post in 2016, after a court ruled that his prior conviction did not disqualify him from the position.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel said following Mandelblit’s announcement that it will appeal to the High Court of Justice against the plea deal.

“It can’t be that a public figure who committed offenses of this type can return in the future to public positions,” the group said in a statement, calling the agreement “shameful.”

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