President rejects convicted ex-minister’s request to clean slate

Shlomo Benizri, who served 2.5 years in jail for bribery, had appealed for parole after state witness who incriminated him recanted

Shlomo Benizri during an interview in Jerusalem on September 10, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shlomo Benizri during an interview in Jerusalem on September 10, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday said he had rejected a request by a former minister, who served a prison sentence for bribery, to clear his criminal record.

Shlomo Benizri of the Shas party was jailed in 2009 after being convicted of taking bribes from contractor Moshe Sela when he was employment and social affairs minister in 2002 and 2003. He served two and a half years of a four-year sentence.

He recently appealed to the president and asked him to pardon him and clear his criminal record after Sela, who turned state witness against Benizri and provided incriminating information that was central to the case, last year claimed he had lied in his testimony under heavy pressure from police.

However, Rivlin’s office said in a statement that “after considering all the material presented in Benizri’s request, the president concluded it did not justify deviating from the provisions of the Criminal Register and Rehabilitation Law.”

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in Jerusalem, on February 18, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The president added that the claims made by Benizri regarding the reliability of the state witness who implicated him “should be adjudicated by the courts, and not in the framework of pardons.”

Benizri, who was a lawmaker for the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, served as health minister under a Labor party government from 1999 to 2001 and then as labor minister under Likud governments from 2001 to 2003. He was charged in 2008 with accepting bribes, breach of public trust and obstruction of justice for actions during his stint as labor minister. He had provided inside information to Sela, his contractor friend.

Benizri appealed an 18-month sentence in 2008; the High Court increased the term to four years in 2009. He served 2.5 years and was released in March 2012, in part because of overcrowding in Israeli prisons.

JTA contributed to this report.

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