(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit initiated an initial probe into alleged campaign fund-raising violations by Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, Mandelblit’s office confirmed on Wednesday.
Herzog joined Shas chairman Arye Deri, who was revealed overnight to be the subject of an investigation whose circumstances are still under a gag order. The police probe of Herzog has been going on for months but was revealed on Wednesday.
The allegations about Herzog focus on the November 2013 Labor leadership primary, in which he defeated incumbent party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich. Police are checking whether Herzog used nonprofit organizations to fund campaign spending that went unreported.
Politicians and activists have been questioned by investigators, who are looking into whether companies spent large sums to try to help Herzog defeat Yacimovich.
Herzog said the investigation was “an attempt at political character assassination” by the Likud and “frustrated Labor activists” who no longer support him. He vowed to cooperate with law enforcement authorities.
“I am sure the probe will prove once and for all that the allegations are delusional,” he said. “I will cooperate fully with whomever necessary in order to get to the bottom of this matter as soon as possible.”
Yacimovich made a point of not responding to the press, but MK Erel Margalit, who is considering challenging Herzog for the Labor leadership, gave him his full support and warned that Labor’s political opponents had reached a new low.
The Likud Youth organization called for opening a full-blown investigation of Herzog, noting that he remained silent when he was questioned in a similar probe in 1999 when he helped Ehud Barak win the premiership from current prime minister and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
“A man like this is unfit to head the opposition in Israel, so he should suspend himself until the truth comes to light,” the organization said.
Zionist Union/Labor Party MK Miki Rosenthal said Herzog and Deri must be treated equally and properly investigated. He said he hoped both men emerge unscathed but if an indictment is issued against either of them, he would need to resign.
Like Herzog, Deri faced criminal investigations before. But unlike the opposition leader, who was never convicted, Deri was convicted of bribery and fraud, and served two years in prison of his three-year sentence.
Deri said at a security guard convention at Jerusalem’s Ramada Hotel that he was surprised by the investigation.
He said he had asked Mandelblit to remove a court-imposed gag order and reveal his name.
“I and everyone connected to me is prepared to answer any questions and help,” Deri said. “I told [Mandelblit] I had one request: to expedite the probe and put his foot on the gas to remove doubts, so I can continue to work.”
A police spokesman said the gag order “was partially lifted on Wednesday, allowing the publication of the fact that the attorney-general has approved a probe of Arye Deri, but that at the moment no official criminal investigation has been opened against him.”
Channel 10 repeated allegations that surfaced in October made about Deri and his family owning too much expensive real estate for him and his extended family to have been able to afford legally. The latest allegations have slightly more specificity in terms of mentioning possible tax violations, but there is still little concrete information being disclosed.
Channel 2 revealed a tape of in individual involved in the Deri scandal saying that it could end his political career.
“He could end up returning to jail because of the nonsense he did,” the source said.
Deri’s associates said he knows he is under a magnifying glass, and that he is confident he will emerge in one piece. He received a vote of confidence on Wednesday from Shas Council of Torah Sages head Rabbi Shalom Cohen.
“We overcame Pharaoh and we overcame Haman,” Deri’s wife, Yaffa, said.
Ben Hartman, Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ariel Zilber contributed to this report.