Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Friday that he intends to file criminal charges against Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, for tax offenses, pending a hearing.
Deri, who was convicted and jailed for bribery decades ago, had initially been suspected of the same charge when the current investigation began five years ago, but Mandelblit has 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.
Shlomo will also be charged with tax offenses pending a hearing.
Deri was also suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust over the alleged diversion of hundreds of thousands of shekels in state funds to NGOs run by members of his immediate family, but those charges were dropped.
Aryeh Deri’s lawyer, Navot Tel-Zur, said in a statement that “after more than five difficult and agonizing years of investigation, the attorney general has ruled at the beginning of his decision that he is clearing Aryeh Deri of suspected government corruption.”
Deri himself wrote on Twitter: “After more than five difficult years of investigation, I thank God for the decision to cancel all the false charges against me, and am convinced that the tax offense will also be closed at the hearing after all the facts are laid out before the attorney general.”
A date for the pre-indictment hearing is yet to be set.
In November 2018, police recommended filing charges against the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party on suspicion of committing fraud, breach of trust, obstructing court proceedings, money laundering and tax offenses involving millions of shekels. Some of the incidents allegedly occurred while Deri was a cabinet minister.
In 2019, then-state attorney Shai Nitzan similarly recommended charging Deri.
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, replacing Eli Yishai. He returned to his Interior Ministry post in 2016, after a court ruled his prior conviction did not disqualify him from the position.
Last month, Channel 12 reported that Deri had secured top jobs for his immediate family in the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish National Fund.
Deri’s son Yaakov Deri has been appointed as head of the WZO’s department for resource raising and heritage, the network said, and his brother Shlomo, vice chairman of the Jewish National Fund in recent years, was promoted recently to co-chairman of the organization.
According to Channel 12, the positioning of Deri’s relatives in top positions led to grumbling within Shas’s ranks, with some questioning why the party leader’s family members are being awarded such lucrative posts.