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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard an appeal in favor of and against former Shas MK Shlomo Benizri's conviction for bribery, with the state asking to increase the punishment meted out to the former minister, and his lawyer to acquit him entirely.
Benizri was sentenced by the Jerusalem District Court in April 2008 to 18 months in jail and fined NIS 80,000 after being convicted of bribery, conspiring to commit a crime and obstruction of justice for receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels in services from contractor Moshe Sela while serving as Labor and Welfare Minister. The court also decided that his actions amounted to moral turpitude.
Both Benizri, who claimed he was the victim of a "witch-hunt," and the state, which felt that the sentence was too light, subsequently appealed the sentence.
Prosecutors asked the Supreme Court during Tuesday's hearing to increase Benizri's prison term to seven years, arguing that in severe corruption cases involving senior government officials the court needs to met out harsh punishment.
The prosecution said that in recent years the courts have dealt lightly with government officials convicted of corruption charges, and that the level of punishment should increase in accordance with the seniority of the official involved.
In contrast, Benizri's lawyer asked the court to acquit his client entirely, saying he had been found innocent of most of the severe charges against him, and that the lower court had relied on the testimony of a state witness who the court itself had said had lied in his testimony.
Benizri served in the Knesset between 1992 and 2008, and was deputy health minister, health minister, and labor and social welfare minister during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
He was forced to resign from the Knesset last year after his conviction.