Shlomo Benizri (L) speaks with Eli Yishai (R) in the Knesset in 2001.
(photo credit: NATALIE BEHRING / REUTERS)
President Reuven Rivlin denied a pardon for former Knesset minister Shlomo Benizri on Thursday. Beniziri served two-and-a-half years in prison, being released in 2012 for bribery. He has denied wrongdoing, claiming that Moshe Sela, the main state witness against him, lied in court.
Benizri was convicted of receiving bribes from Sela, a contractor who brought foreign workers to Israel, when he was minister of labor. Benizri attempted to appeal to the Supreme Court against his original 18-month prison sentence, but the court instead accepted the state's counter-appeal that the sentence had been too lenient and increased it to four years. He was released early.
Rivlin, who as president has the power to pardon criminals, released a response through his press office stating "after considering all the material presented in Benizri’s request, the president concluded it did not justify deviating from the provisions of the Criminal Register and Rehabilitation Law, 5741-1981." The statement added, "claims made by Benizri regarding the reliability of the state’s witness who implicated him should be adjudicated by the courts, and not in the framework of pardons."
According to the original indictment, Benizri leaked information to the contractor regarding foreign worker quotas determined by the Ministry of Labor. In return, Sela allegedly provided Benizri with financial support
, including a sum as high as $200,000. He was also charged with buying expensive gifts for the former minister, namely, furniture valued at NIS 7,000, and paying NIS 28,000 for Benizri's defense attorney in a slander lawsuit.
The indictment lists several other perks that Sela allegedly provided or paid for. Benizri was also charged with improper political appointments of Sela's associates.
Benizri has stated he will not seek to return to politics and only wants his name cleared because he believes he was railroaded by a biased court system.
One of eight children born to a Sephardic family in the northern city of Nesher, Benizri was first elected to Knesset in 1992 as a member of the Shas party. He served as minister of health and later as minister of labor. He currently lives in Jerusalem where he hosts a radio show and writes articles on subjects pertaining to the haredi community.
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