Deri grilled for 11 hours on wide range of graft allegations

Shas’s interior minister, who already did time for corruption, probed on suspicions of money laundering, fraud, breach of trust, tax offenses and more

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 was questioned for a marathon 11 hours Monday on suspicion of a slew of corruption allegations, police said.

The minister was questioned by investigators from the Lahav Serious Crimes Unit, on suspicion of money laundering, fraud and breach of trust, theft by an authorized person, fraudulent registration, and tax offenses, police said in a statement.

“Due to the nature of matters, we cannot expand on additional details of the ongoing investigations,” the statement added.

Investigators were considering requesting that the cabinet minister be placed under house arrest, Hebrew media reported earlier.

Deri and his wife Yaffa were questioned separately, and police sources indicated they would be called back for a second round of questioning. A few hours before they were questioned, officers arrested 14 other people in connection with the graft probe.

Many of the details of the probe, including the identities of some of those arrested, are under a gag order.

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.

“The interior minister said from the first moment that he would cooperate fully and would answer any questions. Minister Deri relies on the law enforcement authorities to do their work in a responsible and proper manner,” a Deri spokesman said.

Police were also said to be 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, the reports said.

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.

Among those arrested were senior officials from the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, also headed by Deri; the director of a government ministry; the CEO of a government office which is under the umbrella of the Interior Ministry; two senior businessmen — a father and son; a former top official in the Finance Ministry. Some of them were questioned under caution in the case.

Moshe Lion in October 2013. (Raphael Ahren/ Times of Israel)
Moshe Lion in October 2013. (Raphael Ahren/ Times of Israel)

One of those questioned was Moshe Lion, who has served on the Jerusalem council since 2013 after a failed mayoral bid. A spokesman for Lion said in a statement: “Lion wants to clarify that he was not asked about and had nothing to do with the various issues published in the media. The questions focused on one specific issue concerning the period when Aryeh Deri was not a politician.”

The spokesperson also said that Lion had revealed all the details he knew and was not placed under any restrictions at the end of the questioning.

Police spent an hour searching the home of one of the senior figures, a political figure who was considered close to Deri and who has collaborated with him in political activity. As they were leaving his home, the elevator jammed, and the police were trapped for an hour.

Channel 2 reported that this figure was questioned over allegations that funds from the Interior Ministry were transferred to a nonprofit fund run by Yaffa Deri.

Hebrew media also reported that most of the 14 would likely be released to house arrest on Monday evening.

Police said that the investigation, which began in April 2016 and is being run in conjunction with the Tax Authority, was expanded as other discoveries were made, a police spokeswoman said.

Part of the inquiry apparently revolves around unreported real estate owned by Deri and members of his family, including a vacation home in northern Israel and five apartments owned by some of his children.

Drone footage shows that the vacation home, in the town of Safsufa near Safed, features a pool and a large patio.

Last year, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit authorized the National Fraud Investigation Unit to launch the criminal investigation into Deri’s dealings.

In the past few weeks, the investigation has drawn close to its final stage, after police gathered evidence that they were to present to Deri and his wife Monday.

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.

Yaffa Deri, wife of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri on May 17, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yaffa Deri, wife of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri on May 17, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

A year ago Deri’s brother Shlomo was also questioned by police as part of the same investigation. He dismissed any allegations of wrongdoing, claiming that the media was targeting his brother because of his success.

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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