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Philanthropist, ex-Bezeq chair questioned in Deri graft probe

Mikhael Mirilashvili and Moshe Haba among 14 questioned by police in connection with corruption investigation of Shas party chairman

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

Police on Tuesday released more names of the 14 people detained for questioning in the lead-up to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri’s interrogation on suspicion of a slew of corruption allegations.

Deri, who served a prison sentence for graft offenses that took place during his previous tenure as interior minister in the 1990s, has sought to downplay the allegations and said he would cooperate with the investigation to prove his innocence.

Israeli-Georgian businessman and philanthropist Mikhael Mirilashvili was among those questioned on Monday in connection to the latest investigation into Deri. Mirilashvili, who deals mainly in real estate, high tech and diamonds, spent eight years behind bars in Russia for conspiracy to kidnap and murder the people who kidnapped his father.

Mirilashvili is heavily involved in philanthropy in Israel and the former Soviet Union. Among his many voluntary posts, he serves as vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress and president of the St. Petersburg Jewish Congress. He and his family also reportedly donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to a charity run by Deri’s wife that has come under scrutiny by police.

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)

 

Mirilashvili’s son Yitzhak, who works with his father, was also brought in for questioning, as was Deri associate Moshe Haba. Haba is the former chairman of the Bezeq International telecommunications giant and has held a range of senior positions in commerce, the Finance Ministry and real estate.

Others questioned were attorney Erez Maloul, who advises Shas’s Religious Affairs Minister David Azoulay, the director of Deri’s bureau and employee of the charity run by Deri’s wife Yaffa, and the couple’s daughter, Dasi.

It was revealed earlier this week that failed Jerusalem mayoral candidate Moshe Lion and Ariel Mashal, director general of the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, were also questioned in connection to the investigation.

The investigation into Deri, which police began in April 2016 together with the Tax Authority, initially focused 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.

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

It has since broadened out to include suspicions of money laundering, fraud and breach of trust, theft by an authorized person, fraudulent registration, and tax offenses, according to police.

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

On Monday, Deri was interrogated for 11 hours by investigators from the Lahav 433 Serious Crimes Unit. Yaffa Deri was questioned separately.

Police were also reportedly considering asking that Deri, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, be suspended from his duties as interior minister, as the graft allegations constitute a possible conflict of interest.

As a member of Knesset, Deri enjoys parliamentary immunity, so police would require the approval of the attorney general, as well as the Knesset itself, to implement any direct sanctions against the interior minister without his agreement.

When he was appointed interior minister, Deri’s declaration of capital included property whose value was estimated at NIS 5 million ($1.32 million). That included his apartment in Har Nof, Jerusalem, valued at NIS 4.7 million ($1.24 million), NIS 10,000 in savings ($2,645), a stock portfolio worth NIS 300,000 ($79,350) and a NIS 60,000 ($15,870) car registered in the name of his wife.

Reports say Deri had made some NIS 2 million ($530,000) from consultancy, following his release from jail.

Deri served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002, after he was convicted of taking bribes while serving as interior minister, and returned to politics earlier this decade.

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 post.

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