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Deri said set to sign plea, quitting Knesset for second time over corruption charges

Shas head, an ex-con, expected to admit to tax offenses that won’t bar him from running for office in next election; party says he’ll remain at helm; decision awaits AG signature

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

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri speaks during a meeting of the right-wing and religious opposition parties at the Knesset, June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shas party leader Aryeh Deri speaks during a meeting of the right-wing and religious opposition parties at the Knesset, June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shas chairman MK Aryeh Deri is reportedly expected to sign a plea deal in the coming days, admitting to tax offenses and agreeing to resign from the Knesset.

Deri will not be charged with a crime that would entail moral turpitude, which would have left him ineligible to hold office in the future. As a result, he will be able to run in the next election, according to the unsourced Channel 12 report that aired Monday evening.

Deri’s office did not deny the report, telling the network it would not comment “until a decision is made.” Shas officials told Channel 12 that they expect Deri to continue to “control and lead” the party from outside the Knesset.

Deri has already given his consent to the deal’s details, the Walla news site reported, adding that the plea now only awaits the signature of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

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

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 his Shas party shortly before the 2015 Knesset elections, ousting Eli Yishai, who had led the party in his absence. Deri returned to his Interior Ministry post in 2016, after a court ruled that his prior conviction did not disqualify him from the position.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Mandelblit recommended earlier this year that Deri be charged with failing to report income to tax authorities on two occasions, along with additional tax offenses he allegedly committed while selling Jerusalem apartments to his brother, Shlomo.

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.

Deri welcomed the decision to drop those “false” charges, saying then that he was “convinced that the tax offense will also be closed… after all the facts are laid out before the attorney general.”

Mandelblit appears to have felt otherwise.

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