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Prosecutors close graft case into Jerusalem mayor candidate

Due to insufficient evidence, charges will not be pursued against Moshe Lion in corruption case involving Shas leader Aryeh Deri

Jerusalem mayoral candidate Moshe Lion at the opening of his campaign headquarters in Jerusalem on August 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jerusalem mayoral candidate Moshe Lion at the opening of his campaign headquarters in Jerusalem on August 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prosecutors announced Tuesday they will not pursue corruption charges against Jerusalem mayoral candidate Moshe Lion, citing insufficient evidence.

Lion, a Jerusalem city councilman and member of the ruling Likud party, was suspected of illegally giving money to Shas party leader Aryeh Deri in 2013 in exchange for supporting his failed mayoral bid.

The probe into Lion was launched as part of a larger corruption investigation of Deri.

Prosecutors decided to close the case into Lion after police found there was not sufficient evidence to prove a criminal offense by Lion, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

The investigation found Lion apparently gave Deri the money for “legitimate reasons,” according to the statement, and that Deri’s backing of Lion in the 2013 municipal elections was part of widespread ultra-Orthodox support for the Jerusalem mayor candidate. Lion was backed by Shas and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party during the election, which he lost to Mayor Nir Barkat.

The statement also noted Deri was not a public official when he received the money. Deri, who is now interior minister, returned to the Knesset in late 2013 after serving a prison sentence for graft charges during a previous stint at the Interior Ministry in the 1990s. He is currently at the center of a graft probe for suspected tax fraud and allegedly transferring hundreds of thousands of shekels in state funds to NGOs run by members of his immediate family. He has denied wrongdoing.

Leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party Aryeh Deri and his wife Yaffa seen leaving their home in Jerusalem, on June 5, 2017, as they make their way for investigation at the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prosecutors said the decision to announce the closure of Lion’s case before reaching a decision on charging other suspects in the investigation was made in light of his current candidacy for Jerusalem mayor. They stressed the probe into Deri and other suspects in the case has not yet been finished.

It was not immediately clear what impact — if any — the decision to close the case would have on Lion’s electoral prospects.

According to a poll aired by Hadashot TV news Monday, Lion would finish in fourth place with 11 percent of the vote if elections were held today.

He trails ultra-Orthodox deputy mayor Yossi Deitch, who would finish first with 23% of the vote; political activist and councilor Ofer Berkovich, in second with 22% of the vote; and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a fellow Likud member and confidante of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with 21%.

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