Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman is leaving it to President Shimon Peres to decide whether former minister Shlomo Benizri (Shas) should be pardoned. Benizri was convicted in 2008 of accepting bribes, breach of trust, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Neeman's move to refer the matter without a recommendation is highly unusual, especially because the Supreme Court increased Benizri's sentence last year from a year and a half to four years in prison. He began serving the term about a year ago.
Since the filing of Benizri's pardon request about six months ago, Neeman and Peres have been contacted by a number of Benizri's former colleagues in the Shas party.
Former justice minister Yossi Beilin told Haaretz yesterday that Neeman's decision not to take a position constituted "a clear evasion of responsibility." Beilin said the justice minister's recommendation is decisive in nearly all pardon requests, and the president's assent is generally a formality.
"The president might think the justice minister believes it correct to pardon Benizri but that it's a politically charged issue, so the minister is pulling off a kind of trick," Beilin said. "I hope the president doesn't grant the pardon in this case."
In 2008, a court ruled that when Benizri was labor minister and responsible for the Employment Service, he assisted his friend Moshe Sela, an owner of an employment agency that brought foreign workers to Israel, in exchange for a $100,000 bribe.
In seeking a pardon, Benizri has asked that consideration be given to his contributions to Israeli society over many years; he also said that the time he has served was already stiff punishment and would act as a deterrent. He also noted the hardship his time in jail had caused his family.
In May, Haaretz reported that the officials handling the pardon request had intended to reject Benizri's petition. Although sources said the Justice Ministry's pardon department had not finalized an opinion, the relatively short period Benizri had served, the seriousness of his offenses and the Supreme Court's criticism of Benizri's conduct were factors that favored rejecting the request.
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