Suspected corruption by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and his wife is reportedly “significantly more serious” than initially believed in a criminal investigation into the couple.
According to a Channel 2 news report on Tuesday, Aryeh and Yaffa Deri are suspected of diverting “substantial sums of money” from a pair of organizations she runs to family and associates.
“No one really knows where the money went or for what. One thing is certain, money was spent in large amounts on things the NGOs were not set up for,” the report quoted a senior legal official as saying.
Deri, who was been questioned five times in the investigation, is suspected of diverting hundreds of thousands of shekels in state funds to NGOs run by members of his immediate family, as well as suspected tax fraud linked to the sale of apartments to his brother.
Yaffa Deri, who runs the Mifalot Simcha and Yehudia Yaale organizations, which allegedly received the public funds, has also been questioned.
They face possible charges of theft, fraud and tax evasion.
Yaffa Deri is suspected of using money donated to her nonprofit organizations to purchase real estate. She has joined her husband for two of the previous three rounds of questioning.
The investigation is a joint effort of the Israel Police, Tel Aviv Income Tax Investigation Division of the Tax Authority, and the Justice Ministry’s Money Laundering and Terror Financing Prohibition Authority, under the supervision of the attorney general.
Aryeh Deri has denied any wrongdoing on his part or that of his wife, and said the couple would “give answers to all the questions,” and cooperate fully with the investigation.
In June, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan promised the police probe “will be seen through until the end.”
Deri already served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002, after he was convicted of taking bribes as interior minister in the 1990s.
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 position.
The police and Tax Authority investigation into the allegations started in April 2016, and focused initially 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.
In addition to questioning the Deris, police have detained 14 people in connection with the probe. Among those questioned were Israeli-Georgian businessman and philanthropist Mikhael Mirilashvili and several senior officials from the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, also headed by Deri.
Amid the ongoing investigation into Deri, Channel 10 published a poll on Saturday indicating Shas would fail to clear the minimum voting threshold to the Knesset if fresh elections were held, a serious decline for the longtime kingmaker in Israeli politics.