A criminal investigation will be opened into Interior Minister Arye Dery, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit decided Thursday at the end of a meeting between the relevant authorities.
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The investigation, parts of which were first reported in Haaretz but are still largely barred from publication, will likely focus on homes owned by Dery and his family, including a summer home in a moshav in the north, and his sons' apartments.
In response, Dery, who initially urged the gag order on the case to be lifted and denies any wrongdoing, said that he is willing to answer any question and is glad to cooperate with legal authorities in their investigation.
Speaking earlier Thursday, Dery, who in the past has been convicted and jailed for corruption, said "Last night I discovered that I'm a real estate mogul. I woke up [my wife] and told her, 'How is that we never knew.' We have one apartment in which we have lived for the past 25 years and in which we raised our nine children. We are stilling paying our mortgage.'
Regarding the summer house in Kfar Hoshen (Safsufa), Dery said "we love the Galilee and we built the house to spend time there with our family during holidays. It belongs to the kids and grandchildren."
The police's fraud squad has in recent months received information regarding Dery and has even begun questioning witnesses. During Thursday's meeting they said the information mandates a criminal inquiry, as opposed to an initial probe. The final decision was reached by the attorney general after the police voiced their support for the move and said they would move to call up suspects for questioning.
The police believe that they have a substantial lead which they say could lead to incriminating evidence. The police hope to question Dery and members of his family soon.
Also under investigation for different reasons, also possibly criminal, is head of the opposition, MK Isaac Herzog. The police hope to collect information in this case, which they say might justify a criminal investigation.
State prosecutor Shai Nitzan recused himself Thursday from Herzog's case, Haaretz has learned. Herzog said he will fully cooperate with investigators and rejected claims of possible wrongdoing, saying the timing of their publication was political. "We all know why this is happening and whoever is behind this will receive such a political blowback that they will a learn a lesson for years to come.