Interior Minister Deri grilled for fifth time in graft probe

Shas party chairman and his wife face suspicions of money laundering, breach of trust, fraud and tax evasion

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 arrived at the Lod offices of the Israel Police’s anti-corruption unit Lahav 433 on Monday for a fifth round of questioning, in an ongoing investigation into a range of corruption suspicions against him.

Deri is suspected of diverting hundreds of thousands of shekels in state funds to NGOs run by members of his immediate family, as well as suspected tax fraud linked to the sale of apartments to his brother.

In previous rounds of interrogations in July and August, investigators questioned both Deri and his wife, Yaffa, who runs two of the organizations, Mifalot Simcha and Yehudia Yaale, that allegedly received the public funds.

They face possible charges of theft, fraud and tax evasion.

Yaffa Deri is suspected of using money donated to her nonprofit organizations to purchase real estate. She has joined her husband for two of the previous three rounds of questioning.

The investigation is a joint effort of the Israel Police, Tel Aviv Income Tax Investigation Division of the Tax Authority, and the Justice Ministry’s Money Laundering and Terror Financing Prohibition Authority, under the supervision of the attorney general.

Aryeh Deri's family's vacation home in Safsufa (Screen capture: YouTube)
Aryeh Deri’s family’s vacation home in Safsufa, northern Israel (Screen capture: YouTube)

Both Deris have been questioned under caution as criminal suspects.

Aryeh Deri has denied any wrongdoing on his part or his wife’s, and said the couple would “give answers to all the questions,” and cooperate fully with the investigation.

“We have no doubt that everything will be OK and will end well, with God’s help,” Deri wrote following the previous round of questioning on August 8.

In June, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan promised the police probe “will be seen through until the end.”

Deri already 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 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 position.

The police and Tax Authority investigation into the allegations started in April 2016, and focused initially 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.

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

In addition to questioning the Deris, police have detained 14 people in connection with the probe. Among those questioned were Israeli-Georgian businessman and philanthropist Mikhael Mirilashvili and several senior officials from the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, also headed by Deri.

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

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