NGO asks High Court to block Deri from future office

The petition slams Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and the Prosecution Economic Crimes Division for the lenient plea deal and indictment they filed against Deri for minor tax crimes.

SHAS LEADER MK Arye Deri, August 2, 2021 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
SHAS LEADER MK Arye Deri, August 2, 2021
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel on Wednesday petitioned the High Court of Justice to effectively block Shas Party leader and former minister Arye Deri from holding future public office.

The petition slams Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and the Economic Crimes Division for a lenient plea deal and indictment they filed against Deri for minor tax crimes in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Sunday, which requires he resign from the current Knesset, but allows him to maintain control of Shas and run for the next Knesset.

According to the NGO, Deri’s crimes in this instance and his status as a repeat offender following a prior multi-year jail sentence should lead to a finding of moral turpitude that would bar him from office for another seven years – essentially ending his career.

Further, the NGO said that Deri and Mandelblit were playing games with the country's legal framework by having him resign just for this Knesset in order to avoid a specific immediate issue which would require a ruling on moral turpitude.

In contrast, the NGO said that criminal violations by Deri, especially a repeat offense, require Mandelblit to give a finding of moral turpitude as part of the plea deal.

 Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. He is something of a weather vane for the new government.  (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. He is something of a weather vane for the new government. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

The court ordered the state to respond by January 5.

Deri was previously convicted and sentenced to three years in jail and barred from politics for nearly 10 years. At that point, however, he was in his 40s, whereas now he is already 62, such that a seven-year ban would likely finish his political career.

The formal indictment filed on Sunday came after the sides announced a plea bargain a week ago in which Deri would resign from the Knesset, admit to minor tax offenses, and pay a NIS 180,000 fine, but avoid prison time.

Mandelblit said last week that due to Deri’s public commitment to resign from the Knesset, he would not seek a finding of moral turpitude, which could block Deri from running for the next Knesset.

The timing of his quitting the Knesset is expected before a court hears and endorses the plea deal, with the hearing still to be scheduled.

This could happen in the coming days or take longer, but will occur before Mandelblit steps down on February 1.

Whether he will be able to be a minister in any future government will likely be decided only if he is nominated and after an expected petition is filed to the High Court, an issue that will not necessarily need to be decided in the current petition.

The High Court recently rejected the NGO’s similar petition to nix a lenient plea deal without a finding of moral turpitude that Mandelblit recently gave to former minister and current Likud MK Haim Katz.