Will Deri Benefit From the Deri Law'?

Senior prosecution officials seem inclined to recommend that Aryeh Deri should not be freed after serving only half his sentence.

Baruch Kra
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Baruch Kra

Aryeh Deri has been very tense in recent days, and not because of the internal struggles in the Shas movement. On his daily route from the Ma'asiyahu prison to the Lithuanian yeshiva in Be'er Yaakov and back, he no doubt thinks about December 17, the day when it will be decided whether he will remain in jail for another half year or whether he will be set free. In contrast to his enthusiastic supporters, who are already preparing the festivities for the middle of January, Deri is keeping a very low profile and is in no way convinced that he will be able to persuade the parole board that he is entitled to so early a release - a release made possible by the law that was invented on his behalf, "the Deri law."

He is justifiably unsure. At a preliminary examination a few days ago of the reports submitted by the Prisons Service and the police, senior prosecution officials tended toward recommending to Judge Eli Sharon, who heads the parole board, that Deri should not be freed after serving only half his sentence. Because of the special sensitivity of the issue, Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein will have to confirm the decision.

To the surprise of Justice Ministry officials, among the various reports was a document submitted by the head of Ma'asiyahu prison, Rami Ovadia, that lambasted the top brass of the Prisons Service for their alleged tendency to grant Deri preferential treatment during his prison term. Sources in the prosecution said that the investigations unit of the police should take a close look at the document and its implications.

There are several reasons why the prosecution apparently objects to so early a release. First, senior police commanders believe that the early release of a public figure convicted of bribes amounting to hundreds of thousands of shekels will have serious public implications. In addition, police sources say, there are still two files pending against Deri; one is already in court and the attorney-general has recommended that an indictment be served on the other.

Even though the Prisons Service report about the prisoner's behavior is generally favorable, it does not increase his chances for an early release. Deri's behavior at Ma'asiyahu was generally satisfactory, but it was not exemplary. After the Knesset passed the Deri law, making it possible for a prisoner to be released after serving half his sentence, the parole board significantly tightened its criteria for such a release. In order to obtain a parole after serving two-thirds of a sentence, a prisoner had to have behaved satisfactorily - "it was enough that he was okay," as they say in the service. But in order to be released after serving only half the sentence, it is now imperative to have behaved in exemplary fashion.

That is why only 30 percent of those who applied to the parole board for early release under the Deri law were actually set free. Under the old law, more than 50 percent were released early. Judge Sharon, incidentally, is considered very tough in this respect.

The legal adviser to the service, Haim Shmuelevitch, described the prisoner's behavior as generally positive. Yitzhak Gabai, head of the intelligence division of the service, had a similar opinion. But the addenda to the reports mention several serious defects in Deri's behavior. For instance, there is a description of how Deri gave an interview to a pirate Haredi radio station without getting permission from the prison authorities. For this, he was not allowed visits for a week. There is also a report from the prison's intelligence officer, Oded Ajami, saying that Deri's behavior at one stage was negative: He brought forbidden foods into the prison and was rebellious.

In his report, Ovadia says: "We are dealing with a manipulative prisoner with a selective memory; he remembers only what is to his advantage and as a result there were several confrontations with [me] over the interpretation of matters we had discussed, even though this is legitimate and within the bounds of what is permissible. At all events, the prisoner behaved courteously and accepted my authority with regard to decisions about him that fall under my control. Most of the time, his behavior was condescending and arrogant when he received a negative answer to a request and he retorted that he would speak to more senior people to take care of his problems."

There is not just a disciplinary but also a public aspect. After the Deri law was passed, Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau published guidelines intended for decision-making by the parole board: The board must take into account the crime that was committed; the contents of outstanding indictments; and the prisoner's behavior. There is also the High Court of Justice's ruling in the case of former prisoner Yoram Skolnik, who was sentenced to life for killing a suspected terrorist whose feet were bound. When the second appeal against Skolnik's release was rejected, the court said that the internal security minister must publish guidleines to the parole board, instructing it to consider the public aspects of the case.

After Skolnik's release, the minister stipulated that the parole board must consider whether the parole of a prisoner could seriously affect the public's trust in the judicial system, the law-enforcement authorities, and the ability to deter others, or if there was an unreasonable disparity between the gravity of the crime and the amount of time served.

It was with this policy in mind that senior police officers expressed the view that the public's trust in law enforcement might be seriously affected if a public figure found guilty of a serious crime were to be released after serving only a year and a half. They point also to the two pending cases against Deri - one involving alleged fraud when he was in the Interior Ministry, and the other in connection with his role in the Bar-On affair, following which the attorney-general decided to indict him - although recently there have been rumors in the ministry that Rubinstein is planning to withdraw his recommendation for an indictment.

Sources in the prosecution and the police intimated that they were angry over the foot-dragging that accompanied the presentation of the Prisons Service report about Deri. They said that in cases such as this, the report should have been submitted a long time ago. MK Yosef Paritzky recently requested a copy of the report, but was turned down.

There are those who believe that it was because of the prison director's harsh remarks about Deri that the report was held up. The remarks refer not to Deri's behavior but more specifically to that of the committee that was set up to oversee the treatment of the prisoner, who was described as being "in the media spotlight." The decision to set up the committee stemmed from the lessons learned from the incarceration of Ma'ariv publisher Ofer Nimrodi, who got preferential treatment in jail - leading to the dismissal of several officers. Sources in the service say that it was this committee that tried to provide Deri with preferential treatment, while the prison command went by the book.

Ovadia's remarks lend credence to reports a few months ago in Ha'aretz with regard to the moves that preceded the decision to let Deri participate in a rehabilitative group, which automatically led to improved conditions. Prosecution sources believe the service's senior officers were uncomfortable with the remarks, and that is why the report was delayed.

"It would be inconceivable for me not to refer to the moves that preceded the prisoner's joining a rehabilitative group," Ovadia wrote. "I must point out that, in the preliminary discussions, the unit was opposed to letting him join in the rehabilitation because of the public trial that was taking place against him, since the regulations stipulate clearly that a prisoner who is facing criminal charges in court cannot go for rehabilitation.

"The matter was brought up before the deputy commissioner of the service by the head of the prison, and it was agreed that we must operate according to the regulations.

"On the day that the rehabilitation committee met, we were told by the committee chairman (Danny Avidan) that from the legal point of view it was possible to send him to rehabilitation. We received instructions from the higher committee to discuss his case with regard to group rehabilitation, without referring to the legal process taking place against him. The committee reconvened and the intelligence officer of the prison gave an overview of the prisoner's behavior from the intelligence point of view. It was decided to postpone the decision for three months in order to examine his behavior. With this in mind, the higher committee decided that the intelligence officer had been mistaken when he gave his report and decided that, instead, the head of the intelligence division would be the one to give a report about the prisoner. And indeed, after the report by the head of the division, the obstacles were removed and it became possible to send him for personal rehabilitation.

"It must be noted that the feelings of the rehabilitation committee about the decision were very strongly negative; they are detailed in the protocols of the rehabilitation committee ... At the same time, I must point out that, since he joined the rehabilitation program, his behavior was correct... He gave Torah lessons to the other prisoners and assisted poor prisoners when they left jail..."

Ovadia continues: "I wish to point out that senior persons in the Prisons Service commission have worked behind my back during the entire period of his detention, while applying indirect pressure on me. They made sure to keep me out of the decision-making process; they made sure to mark me as `the bad one' with regard to providing him with benefits. I wish to point out that, before the prisoner was brought here, there were persons in the service and out of it who tried to influence me to give instructions that would provide him with preferential treatment. I did not get the moral backing from the system for detaining a prisoner who is famous and in the media spotlight, and I regret this. I was humiliated by certain people in the service who used Third-World tactics in order to undermine my credibility and discretion, but despite their behavior, the unit made sure it was following orders and regulations with regard to his incarceration from the time he entered Ma'asiyahu."

This troublesome document has already been brought to the attention of the state prosecutor. Sources in the prosecution, the service and the police believe that there will be no choice but to hold an examination in the police investigations unit. The police were already keeping an eye out for developments a short time before the Ha'aretz publications of a few months ago.

Prisons Service spokesperson Orit Harel said in response that the material relating to the parole board had been passed on to the prosecution, as was the practice. She said that the legal adviser of the Prisons Service was responsible for drawing up a report about prisoners about whom there was public interest. "Since the discussions of the parole board are held behind closed doors, we can not give dtails of what was in the report," she added.