Shas's Peretz resigns from Knesset after fraud conviction

Decision comes following his court conviction on charges of fraud.

yair peretz 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
yair peretz 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Shas MK Yair Peretz announced on Thursday that he would resign from the Knesset within 48 hours, after Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court convicted him of violating the Criminal Code by obtaining a benefit by deceit. Peretz was found guilty of receiving a BA in psychology from the now-defunct local extension of Burlington University, after he copied nine essays written by former students at the school and submitted them as his own. The crime calls for a sentence of up to three years in jail. In a harshly worded decision, Judge Miriam Diskin rejected the request of Peretz's lawyer, Yehuda Weinstein, not to convict his client despite his admission of guilt. Peretz and the state recently reached a plea bargain arrangement in which the Shas MK admitted that he had obtained his degree by deceit. In return, the state dropped another charge referring to an alleged attempt by Peretz to illegally obtain an academic degree from Bar-Ilan University. It also agreed to drop charges of fraud and of attempted conspiracy to achieve an illegal aim. In her decision, Diskin wrote that the crime Peretz had committed was too serious to justify not convicting him. "In this affair," she wrote, "the defendant went all the way along a path of deceit to obtain his personal ends... He admitted that he did not lift a finger to fulfill any of his academic obligations, not even a little. Instead of studying, investing, searching for material, summarizing it and writing it up and everything else involved in preparing an academic work, he made it easy for himself through deceit." Diskin also pointed out that after obtaining his degree by deceit, Peretz applied to the Education Ministry for recognition of it so he could receive a higher salary. He also added the degree to his Knesset curriculum vitae. Diskin added that Peretz's crime was worse because he was an elected representative. "A public figure is obliged to maintain a proper moral level of conduct, both in his public and private life," she wrote. "If he commits a crime, it cannot be erased. His turpitude must be 10 times greater [than an ordinary person's], for we expect higher and more scrupulous norms of behavior from him. Certainly, we do when it comes to fairness and honesty. His incorruptibility, his honesty and good qualities are under scrutiny every day and every hour, for he deals with matters that affect the fates of others." Diskin will reportedly hand down Peretz's sentence next week. The state has asked for a suspended sentence and a fine, and for the court to determine that his actions involved moral turpitude. If the court accepts the state's request, Peretz will not be able to serve in the Knesset for seven years. "We are providing Peretz with lots of support in his hour of need," a Shas spokesman said. "He is considering appealing the decision." Peretz will be replaced until Election Day by Ofer Hugi, who was indicted last year on charges of fraud, forgery and falsifying corporate documents. Allegedly, Hugi fraudulently extracted budgets from the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry for a technological college that was ostensibly operating within the framework of the Or Hahayim educational network run by Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, but which in fact did not exist. Matthew Wagner contributed to this report.