(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Interior Minister Arye Deri (Shas) and his wife, Yaffa, were questioned by police for more than 11 hours on Monday, and 14 others were arrested the same day in connection with an ongoing corruption probe.
In a statement after Deri finished police questioning late Monday night, the Lahav 433 National Crime Unit said the minister is suspected of money laundering, fraud, breach of trust, theft by an authorized person, and fraudulent registration and tax offenses.
The investigation into Deri and his wife was reported by Channel 10 as being pursued on multiple suspicions, including: Deri’s relationship to a hedge fund; bribes allegedly received from businessmen and funneled through Deri’s brother Shlomo; and a grant given to NGO Mifalot Simha, which is headed by Yaffa Deri. Hebrew media reported the couple were also being investigated for a series of inter-family real-estate dealings.
Among the 14 detainees were Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Moshe Leon and Ministry for Development in the Negev director-general Ariel Mashaal. Leon is a former manager of a hedge fund that reportedly had dealings with Deri as a private citizen. Both Leon and Mashaal were released without restriction. The remaining 12 detainees are expected to be released as well.
Deri and his wife entered Lahav 433 headquarters at approximately 10:00 a.m. on Monday and the questioning ended at around 9:30 p.m. Hebrew media reported that the couple was interrogated in separate rooms, following approval from Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit for individual interrogations.
According to Channel 2, police are investigating a NIS 570,000 grant – which was to be provided by the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee that Deri heads – to the NGO managed by Yaffa. The grant was reportedly stopped following intervention by ministry officials.
The minister is also suspected of illegally transferring a five-room Jerusalem apartment to his brother, attorney Shlomo Deri.
Police are also investigating how the Deri family funded a vacation villa in the Upper Galilee village of Kfar Hoshen, also known as Safsufa.
The investigation is being headed by Lahav 433 in cooperation with the Israel Tax Authority.
Police on Monday said the case, which was opened in April 2016 – was initially based on suspicions of tax offenses, mainly in the field of assets, but subsequently was expanded to include additional areas and “many suspects.”
Arye Deri, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, has previously reported to tax authorities that he owns only one apartment in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood.
On Monday, Leon denied any involvement with the case, saying only he was “briefly” questioned.
“I asked that my name be published precisely because of my cleanliness.” Leon said in statement on his Facebook account.
Shlomo was questioned last year in and denied the allegations, stating that he legally paid for the majority of the vacation home.
The lavish home is equipped with a pool and is officially owned by Arye Deri’s daughter Dassi Iluz.
A spokesman for Arye Deri declined to comment, however, the minister has previously denied any wrongdoing in the matters under investigation.
“We still have only one apartment that we have been living in for more than 25 years, and we still haven’t stopped paying the mortgage,” he said in March 2016, after Mandelblit ordered the probe.
Monday’s questioning comes 15 years after Deri was released after serving 22 months of a three-year jail sentence for accepting bribes while serving as interior minister.