Shas party leader Arye Deri.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The police recommendation to indict Arye Deri is a clear blow to the Interior Minister, yet the announcement can be broken down into both good and bad points for the head of Shas.
First, Deri is in trouble since the charges are not just against tax fraud but also include other serious crimes, accusing him of tampering with witness testimony. Along those lines, Deri is also in trouble since the amount allegedly exchanged involves millions of shekels, as opposed to being viewed as insignificant. Deri has alibis for much of his conduct, but it could be a tough sell with such a wide variety of corruption charges linked to several of his allies.
Second, two of the largest issues Deri was questioned about relate to his wife and to funds that he acquired, but not during his return to political office. Surprisingly to many, these charges do not appear in the investigation against Deri. The police statement also vaguely alluded to the investigations relating to Deri, but did not make it clear whether these cases can in any way compromise Deri himself, and not just close allies of his.
Third, it is simply astounding, guilty or innocent, that Deri maintained his economic affairs
in ways that many have said hint at corrupt practices.
Fourth, could Deri now be forced out by a petition to the High Court of Justice? In May 2016, the High Court issued a split 2-1 decision allowing Deri to remain Interior Minister despite his prior convictions for breaking the law while serving as interior minister.
In 2000, Deri was convicted of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, for which he served 22 months in prison until 2002. He also waited longer than the seven-year cooling off period before returning to politics and was not reinstated as Shas Party leader until 2012.
And yet, the narrow majority said that voters and the Knesset’s endorsement of Deri, combined with him waiting seven years since prison, meant that he could remain in office without problems. If an early election were not in the air, there would be a renewed petition to the High Court to fire Deri as minister, by connecting his past convictions with the current accusations.
Since there can be an early election and the police recommendations are less significant than the attorney-general’s final decision, it is not clear that good governance NGOs will refile a petition to get Deri fired.
Fifth, the police recommendations could have come much earlier in a case that is around three years old. There is no reason that the recommendations came out now other than that Israel Police commissioner Roni Alsheich is stepping down soon – on December 3 – and did not want to leave unfinished business.
When the police or even the Attorney-General say that two years or more are needed for certain probes, it is not said merely to show they go by the book. The timing of cases and how many exact rounds of questioning are performed on suspects is an art and not a science. A complex case cannot necessarily be decided in only a few months.
That the Attorney-General’s Office has refused to decide in the prime minister’s criminal probes before a possible early election appears to be a conscious choice. It is not because of a lack of options.
The long delay in deciding this case has been to Deri’s advantage by letting him serve close enough to the end of his term. Pushing him out before an official indictment is filed is highly unlikely.
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