Opposition lawmakers call for minister to resign amid indictment recommendations

Zionist Union, Yesh Atid MKs say Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, suspected of a list of corruption offenses, must leave the government immediately

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

Shas party leader and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri speaks in the Knesset on November 19, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Shas party leader and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri speaks in the Knesset on November 19, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Opposition lawmakers called on Interior Minister Aryeh Deri to resign from the government Monday, after police said they were recommending indictments against him on a slew of corruption charges, including alleged crimes committed while in office.

Police said there was a basis of evidence that Deri, who was previously jailed for corruption while serving as interior minister, had committed fraud, breach of trust, obstructing court proceedings, money laundering, and tax offenses involving millions of shekels, some of which happened while he was a cabinet minister.

Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay said the allegations were indicative of “a culture of government corruption” that has become accepted in Israeli politics.

“This is the outcome of politicians who raised their hands [in surrender] and accept public corruption,” he said in a tweet. “This can be changed. A government can be set up that protects rule of law, that will fight against and end the corruption and present a personal example.”

Leader of the opposition Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fire Deri, but said he may be disinclined to do so because of similar corruption recommendations police have already made against the premier.

“Another minister joins the elected officials who are suspected of corruption,” Lapid wrote. “In a normal state, Netanyahu would demand Deri’s resignation today. But a prime minister with a recommendation for an indictment can not exactly say anything to an interior minister with a recommendation for an indictment.”

Protesters demonstrate outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, as police investigators arrive to question Benjamin Netanyahu on October 5, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu is a suspect in three separate criminal probes, known by their police designations as cases 1000, 2000, and 4000, which involve suspicions Netanyahu accepted gifts and favors in exchange for advancing businessmen’s interests. Police in February recommended he be indicted in cases 1000 and 2000.

The only cabinet member to comment on  the police recommendations against Deri was Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home), who said that he “believes and hopes that all the suspicions against Minister Deri will be clarified as non-existent.”

Several other MK, however, said Deri must step down immediately.

“Deri, like every criminal, should be distanced from the scene of the crime and from public life,” Zionist Union MK Mickey Rosenthal said in a statement. “There has not been in our history a government which so blatantly trampled integrity. If there is even a drop of honor left among the Israeli public — Deri should immediately resign and never return.”

Fellow party member Salah Sa’ad said, “For his own good, and the good of his voters, many of who are from the weaker populations, he should resign from the Knesset and the government and fight for his innocence.”

“Deri’s continued term in the government has a very bad message to the public,” he added.

Deri served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002, after he was convicted of taking bribes as interior minister in the 1990s.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri attends a ceremony at the President’s Residence, in Jerusalem, on October 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

He reclaimed the leadership of his Shas party shortly before 2015’s 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.

Police said the investigation found evidence of Minister Deri “committing offenses of fraud and breach of trust with respect to his conduct in the case of a businessman while serving as minister, as well as for the commission of tax offenses in significant amounts of millions of shekels, money laundering, disruption of court proceedings and making false statements to the speaker of the Knesset about his assets and revenues.”

The suspicions against Deri did not include allegations of bribery, which, according to media reports in April, were dropped due to lack of evidence.

Investigators also recommended indicting Deri’s brother Shlomo on financial offenses, Israel Police said in a statement.

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.

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