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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Jerusalem District Attorney's Office on Wednesday filed an indictment against Shas MK Shlomo Benizri and his religious mentor, Rabbi Reuven Elbaz.
Benizri, who was reelected to the 17th Knesset after being placed sixth on the party list, and Elbaz were charged with using their power and influence as public servants to provide favors for Moshe Sela, a foreign labor contractor, in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in money and other benefits.
After authorities began to suspect the criminal link between Sela, Benizri and Elbaz, they persuaded Sela to turn state's witness, who then provided much of the evidence in the indictment.
According to the indictment, Benizri and Elbaz were charged with conspiracy to commit a crime and taking a bribe. In addition, Benizri was charged with fraud and breach of faith and Elbaz with obtaining a bribe while serving as an intermediary. They could be sentenced to up to seven years in jail if convicted of either of the first two charges.
Benizri was also charged with obstructing justice, conspiracy to commit a crime and attempting to suborn a witness over his alleged attempts to cover up the favors he allegedly received from Sela.
The indictment covers the period between 1996 and 2001 and is divided into two parts. The first period includes Benizri's term of office as MK, deputy minister of health and minister of health. The second period picks up when he was elected minister of labor and welfare on March 7, 2001.
The state charges that during the first period, Sela bought Benizri a dining room set worth NIS 6,500, paid NIS 28,000 in lawyer's fees for Benizri's representation in a libel suit, bought him an air conditioning system for NIS 23,400 and gave his wife NIS 40,000.
Also, in December 1998, Sela bought an apartment adjacent to Benizri's and rented it to him after knocking down the wall and making renovations at his own expense. Eventually Benizri took out a mortgage to buy the second apartment and Sela contributed to the monthly payments.
In return, Benizri employed three Sela associates in his bureau, intervened on Sela's behalf with then-minister of labor and welfare Eli Yishai, and appointed Sela's wife as head of his bureau when he became minister of health.
The relations between Benizri, Elbaz and Sela allegedly intensified after Benizri became minister of labor and welfare. In his new capacity, Benizri was able to provide Sela with inside information and contracts directly related to his line of work. In return, Sela paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Elbaz, who could tell Benizri what to do. Benizri also continued to receive money from Sela, including a payment of $200,000.
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