(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
An NGO wrote to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit demanding that he reveal evidence from the newest allegations against Interior Minister Arye Deri to the High Court of Justice as it closes in on whether his appointment was legal.
The, NGO, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel, also sent a parallel letter to the court on Wednesday asking that it make sure it receives this new information before it makes a decision.
In February, the High Court heard a petition by the NGO asking to disqualify Deri due to his past criminal record.
The hearing appeared to be more favorable to Deri than the NGO, but the Movement has latched on to the new allegations to breathe life into its petition against Deri.
More specifically, the NGO pressed Mandelblit to update the High Court about the allegations and about why he decided to start with only an “initial review” instead of moving straight to criminal investigation.
Late Tuesday and early Wednesday, reports named Deri as the mysterious senior official being probed, with the interior minister eventually outing himself and saying he wanted to address all questions and then move on with his work.
During former attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein’s term, which only ended on January 31, investigating public officials with initial reviews, and only moving on to criminal investigations in select instances, became almost standard practice.
So common was this that a separate High Court petition was filed requesting that Weinstein provide set criteria for when, how and for how long initial reviews would be performed.
Weinstein released concrete criteria on the issue only days before he left office.
Since the initial review concept is still relatively new in being standardized, it is unclear what role it will have in influencing the High Court about its overall decision of whether Deri is fit to remain interior minister.
Barring Deri’s special circumstances of a criminal record, in general ministers are not forced to resign unless they are convicted of an offense, though most suspend themselves once indicted.
In February, the Movement implored the High Court to veto Deri’s appointment as interior minister with an emotional appeal that a “cry by generations” of the countries citizenry has broken out against it.
The NGO opposes Deri’s appointment because he previously held the same exact position, but was forced to resign in 1993 amid a corruption investigation.
In 2000, he was convicted of bribery, fraud and violation of trust, and was sentenced to three years in prison. He was released in 2002 after serving 22 months.
He also waited more than the seven-year cooling off period for returning to politics and was not reinstated as Shas party chairman until 2012.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed him to return to the post last month.
“It is unreasonable to return Deri to the ministry where he committed crimes and instituted a sick system of using local authorities as pipelines of money,” the Movement’s lawyers wrote in their petition against the appointment.
The lawyers have asked the High Court to cancel the appointment, saying it will discourage the public from having faith in their public officials.
But on August 13, the court rejected a similar petition by the NGO to block Deri from being appointed as economy minister.
While the High Court said it viewed his appointment as borderline and problematic, it emphasized that around 30 years had passed since Deri committed the crimes in question and that the prime minister has wide discretion for cabinet appointments.
Next, the High Court rejected an appeal for a wider panel of justices to consider the issue. Further, though the court said in August that it might rule differently if Netanyahu tried to place Deri back in the Interior Ministry, which he then did, before this week’s allegations, most expected it to give him a pass, while sounding a protest and leaving any non-legal and ethical blame for the appointment on the prime minister.