Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, who resigned as a parliamentarian last week, vowed he would return to the Knesset and railed against prosecutors Wednesday, a day after he was fined for tax offenses in a plea bargain in his second conviction.
Deri was given a suspended 12-month prison sentence Tuesday and fined NIS 180,000. By resigning from parliament before he signed the plea deal, he was able to dodge a conviction of moral turpitude that would have barred him from office for several years. He was convicted the same day the resignation took effect and confessed to the tax offenses.
Sentencing Deri, Jerusalem District Court Judge Shmuel Herbst had said the sentence was “balanced and suitable” and noted that Deri would be “leaving public life.”
In its sentencing, the court noted that any concern that Deri might in future again “harm the public coffers” was assuaged by the “certainty” that he would have no further dealings with matters of “public economic interest since he will be distanced from the public sphere.”
But at a press briefing, Deri claimed he and his family had been harassed by law enforcement officials who put him on trial for matters that, he said, should have simply been clarified with tax authorities.
“If my name weren’t Machluf, the matter would have ended with the tax officer,” he said, a reference to his Sephardic middle name.
“It was a mountain out of a molehill,” he said.
Deri said he will lead his Shas party in any future Knesset election.
“In the coming elections… I will stand at the head of Shas,” he said. “There is nothing to prevent that.”
“I am not going anywhere,” he declared. “I resigned [my Knesset seat] and it is not a trivial matter, but I said, and I continue to say, that I will go on being the chairman of Shas.”
Regarding his resignation from parliament and his confession, Deri said, “The right thing for me was to take responsibility, despite the heavy price.”
Deri had made similar pledges about staying at the helm of Shas even before his conviction was finalized.
A senior Shas figure told The Times of Israel last week that Deri’s plea deal and resignation will in practice change little beyond his absence as a legislator. Deri will continue to participate in full Knesset life, as if he were an MK without voting power.
“He’s the address for everything that happens with Shas. Just, technically, he’s not a member of Knesset,” the source said.
According to the Shas source, Deri will continue to lead the Shas party’s Monday faction meetings and will remain Shas’s representative at the “right-wing bloc” party head meetings held in opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
If elections are called at any time, Deri can run for office and return to full formal power, unless the Central Elections Committee votes to bar him from doing so.
“The law enables him to do this,” the source said.
Deri inked a plea deal in December to resolve tax offenses connected to real estate transactions. As part of the deal, Deri agreed to admit to not paying income taxes on an apartment sale and making false statements.
Last month the Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel lobby group against the plea deal, in which it had demanded Deri’s conviction carry with it moral turpitude.
Deri had initially been suspected of bribery when the investigation began five years ago, but Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ended up accusing him of the lesser offenses of failing to report income to tax authorities on two occasions and additional tax offenses committed while selling Jerusalem apartments to his brother Shlomo Deri.
Deri was also charged over his ties with the Green Ocean investment fund, which had been paying him commissions for bringing in new investors. When Deri returned to the Knesset in 2013 he instructed that the commissions be transferred to his brother and, by not properly reporting the paper trail, received NIS 534,000 in 2014-2015 without paying tax.
In 2018, police recommended filing charges against Deri on suspicion of committing fraud, breach of trust, obstructing court proceedings, money laundering and tax offenses involving millions of shekels. In 2019, then-state prosecutor Shai Nitzan recommended charging the Shas chairman, but many of those charges were ultimately dropped.
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 a designation of moral turpitude. In 2013 he returned to politics, reclaiming the leadership of Shas and ultimately returning to serve as interior minister from 2016 until last year when his party entered the opposition. A court had ruled that his prior conviction did not disqualify him from the position.