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Supreme Court rejects petition calling on it to insist on harsher plea deal for Deri

Justices dismiss demand that the state include clause in plea bargain that would bar the former minister and ex-con from returning to public office for seven years

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Shas MK Aryeh Deri at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 22, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shas MK Aryeh Deri at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 22, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Supreme Court on Sunday rejected a petition that asked it to intervene in the plea deal recently signed by Shas party leader MK Aryeh Deri, which would see him admit to tax offenses and resign from the Knesset but could let him avoid being barred from politics in the future.

The petition, filed by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, requested that the country’s top court demand that Deri’s conviction carry along with it “moral turpitude,” the key clause that would prevent him from returning to politics for at least seven years.

Under the terms of the deal signed last month, Deri is slated to resign from the Knesset, then admit to not reporting income in two cases, and pay a fine of NIS 180,000 ($58,000). Since he will not be a public official at the time of the conviction, the question of moral turpitude for his actions is not part of the plea bargain.

Deri has yet to resign from the Knesset, as the plea bargain has not been yet approved by the court. This is slated to come by the end of the month, and had been pending the Supreme Court petition.

The petition claimed that the state is required to request that the court convict Deri of moral turpitude for his actions. But the Supreme Court rejected the petition, ruling that the plea deal can stand as is, and that any attempt by Deri to return to politics can be reassessed by the courts in the future.

Deri previously served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002 after he was convicted of taking bribes while serving as interior minister. That verdict carried moral turpitude. In 2013 he returned to politics, reclaiming the leadership of Shas and ultimately returning to serve as interior minister until last year when his party entered the opposition.

Former leader of the Shas party Aryeh Deri on his way to Ma’asiyahu prison on September 3, 2000, convicted of taking $155,000 in bribes while serving as interior minister. Deri was given a three-year jail sentence, but was ultimately released after 22 months for good behavior. (Flash90)

In response to the Supreme Court’s rejection of its petition, the Movement for Quality Government criticized the court and state prosecutors.

“Do the citizens of Israel not deserve elected officials and ministers free from corruption?” the organization asked. “The state is allowing a patented trick under which Deri will resign from the Knesset, and therefore the issue of moral turpitude will not be discussed now.”

The organization maintained that the hearing on such a determination “should be now and not… at an unclear future date, by a judge or other entity unfamiliar with the details of the case.”

Plea deals and convictions of “moral turpitude” are currently being hotly discussed in Israel, as reports swirl that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on the brink of signing his own plea deal in his three ongoing corruption cases.

The issue of moral turpitude has been seen as the main sticking point in negotiations between Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. Netanyahu reportedly wants the issue of moral turpitude to be left up to the judges or to a future election commission, while Mandelblit is said to have demanded the plea deal include such a designation, which would bar the 72-year-old Netanyahu from politics for seven years.

The Movement for Quality Government has also come out strongly in opposition to a purported Netanyahu plea deal, appealing to Mandelblit — whose term ends this month — not to sign it.

“It is not possible that a person accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust should be able to hold public office again in the future,” the organization wrote. “This is someone who led the government for many years, and used his position and power, in a way that led the attorney general to file serious indictments against him in a number of different cases.”

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