Court to Rule in Former Minister Benizri Bribery Case Today

The Jerusalem District Court is due to hand down its verdict today in the bribery case surrounding MK Shlomo Benizri (Shas) today, who is accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, fraud and breach of trust.

Shas leaders said when Benizri was indicted two years ago that he would resign from the Knesset if convicted. Benizri refused to comment on this yesterday.

"I'm not worried," he told Haaretz. "I'm always optimistic. Even in the bad I see the good." Benizri's lawyer said, "As long as the legal proceeding has not ended, there is no reason for Benizri to resign."

Benizri and Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, his political and spiritual patron, are accused of accepting money and favors from contractor Moshe Sela between 1996 and 2001, when Benizri served as health minister, deputy health minister and labor and welfare minister. At the time, Sela owned human resources companies that brought foreign workers into Israel. Benizri is accused of influencing Employment Service decisions regarding foreign worker quota allocations to various contractors and of giving Sela valuable confidential information.

A certain percentage of Sela's profits was allegedly transferred to Elbaz and his Or Hahaim yeshiva network. The prosecution argues that Benizri knew that the transfer of funds would improve his standing with Elbaz and the Shas movement.

Sela turned state's witness after the allegations were made, and his testimony allowed prosecutors to turn their suspicions into an indictment against Benizri and Elbaz. According to the charge sheet, Sela gave Benizri money monthly in 2000 and 2001 as well as $200,000 at the end of 2001, bought the apartment next door to Benizri and expanded his house, bought him electronics and furniture, and even promised him a silent partnership in a hotel on the Dead Sea coast.

In June 2001, Sela allegedly gave Elbaz NIS 1 million in checks - of which he put only NIS 200,000 in the yeshiva's bank account, fearing that the payments would generate suspicion. Sela cancelled the rest of the checks and gave Elbaz $190,000 in cash. After Benizri and Elbaz promised Sela they would help him win the tender for transporting foreign agricultural workers, Sela gave Elbaz another $400,000 and NIS 180,000.

Benizri is also accused of appointing Sela's associates to positions of public trust in his bureau. These included Sela's wife, Edna, who was appointed bureau chief when Benizri served as health minister. Benizri is also accused of conspiring to commit a crime and obstruct the investigation because he allegedly agreed with Sela to lie about his accepting perks. The two allegedly attempted to coordinate their stories with others involved.

Sela testified in court that he told the contractor who refurbished Benizri's home to lie, saying, "I told him, if they ask you who paid, say, 'Shlomo.'"