High Court rejects petition to block Deri from future office as premature

The High Court approved the constitutionality of Deri's plea bargain, leaving open the option of his return to politics in the future.

 Head of the Shas party Aryeh Deri reacts during a memorial ceremony marking 26 years since the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on October 18, 2021.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Head of the Shas party Aryeh Deri reacts during a memorial ceremony marking 26 years since the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on October 18, 2021.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The High Court of Justice on Monday rejected a petition to cancel a plea deal between the prosecution and Shas Party leader Arye Deri, telling the petitioners it was premature to decide the issue of moral turpitude and leaving open his potential path to return to the Knesset.

Earlier in December, Deri signed a deal that included a conviction for minor tax crimes and a commitment to resign from the Knesset. That deal left open the possibility he could run for a future Knesset seat and possibly even seek to be a minister.

On December 29, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel petitioned Justices Yitzhak Amit, Noam Sohlberg and Alex Stein to effectively block Deri from holding future public office.

The petition slammed Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and the Prosecution Economic Crimes Division for a lenient plea deal and indictment they filed against Deri for minor tax crimes in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.

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

 ATTORNEY-GENERAL Avichai  Mandelblit: What of Sa’ar’s  plans to split the A-G’s office? (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) ATTORNEY-GENERAL Avichai Mandelblit: What of Sa’ar’s plans to split the A-G’s office? (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
 

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

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

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

The timing of his quitting the Knesset is expected before a court hears and endorses the plea deal.

The hearing has been delayed by the petition pending before the High Court. It is expected to occur before Mandelblit steps down on February 1.

Whether Deri 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 with the High Court, an issue that will not necessarily need to be decided in the current petition.

In fact, the High Court explicitly left open the possibility that it might bar Deri from future public offices should he seek them, adding that it did not need to rule on that issue before it became relevant.

The current government technically has about four more years left to its term, and in any event, elections for Deri to seek a new office are not expected in the near future.

The outcome was somewhat foreshadowed by the High Court’s recent rejection of 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.