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Deri resigns from the Knesset in line with tax offense plea deal

Because the Shas party leader will not be an MK at time of pending verdict, he’ll dodge a ‘moral turpitude’ conviction, enabling possible return to politics

Shas party leader MK Aryeh Deri, right, hands his letter of resignation to Knesset Speaker MK Mickey Levy, January 23, 2020. (Knesset spokesperson)
Shas party leader MK Aryeh Deri, right, hands his letter of resignation to Knesset Speaker MK Mickey Levy, January 23, 2020. (Knesset spokesperson)

MK Aryeh Deri, the Shas party chairman, on Sunday submitted his resignation from the Knesset in accordance with a plea bargain that saw him admit to tax offenses but could let him avoid being barred from politics in the future.

Deri personally delivered his letter to Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy.

The resignation will come into effect 48 hours after it was submitted.

Deri will remain party chief but will be replaced in the Knesset by the next candidate on the Shas list, Yosef Taieb, a former MK who is the head of the party’s French-language activities.

Under the terms of the deal signed last month, Deri was slated to resign from the Knesset, then admit to not reporting income in two cases, and pay a fine of NIS 180,000 ($58,000).

Since he will not be a public official at the time of the conviction, his plea bargain won’t include a “moral turpitude” clause for his actions. Such a clause would have blocked his return to political life for seven years.

Yosef Taieb speaks on October 22, 2020 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Last week the Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel lobby group against the plea deal, in which it had demanded Deri’s conviction carry with it “moral turpitude.”

The petition claimed that the state is required to request that the court convict Deri of moral turpitude for his actions. But the Supreme Court rejected the petition, ruling that the plea deal can stand as is, and that any attempt by Deri to return to politics can be reassessed by the courts in the future.

The plea bargain has not been yet approved by the court. That is slated to come by the end of the month and had been pending the Supreme Court petition.

Shas MK Aryeh Deri at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 22, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Deri previously served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002 after he was convicted of taking bribes while serving as interior minister. That verdict carried moral turpitude. In 2013 he returned to politics, reclaiming the leadership of Shas and ultimately returning to serve as interior minister from 2016 until last year when his party entered the opposition. A court had ruled that his prior conviction did not disqualify him from the position.

In January 2021, Attorney-General Avichai 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.

Following the announcement of the plea deal last month Deri said that he would continue to lead the Shas party “with full force and faith.”

Plea deals and convictions of “moral turpitude” are currently being hotly discussed in Israel, as reports swirl that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is possibly on the brink of signing his own plea deal in his three ongoing corruption cases.

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