Israeli Interior Minister Denies Criminal Behavior, Calls for Expedited Investigation

Arye Dery is one of two senior Israeli politicians to be suspected of criminal wrongdoing. In the early 1990s, Dery was convicted of taking bribes while serving in public roles.

Yair Ettinger
Ofra Edelman
Gidi Weitz
Interior Minister Arye Dery, March 30, 2016.
Interior Minister Arye Dery, March 30, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman
Yair Ettinger
Ofra Edelman
Gidi Weitz

Interior Minister Arye Dery denied allegations that he committed any criminal behavior at a press conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday, amid reports that he was one of two senior Israeli politicians suspected of criminal wrongdoing in two unrelated cases by Israel Police’s fraud squad.

Dery said that he was pleased with the attorney general's conduct, and asked that the investigation act as quickly as possible. Dery added that he and all those related to him are prepared to meet, assist and give investigators whatever they need, requesting that they speed up the investigation process. He added that he is continuing his work as interior minister, and the reports of his alleged wrongdoing "totally surprised me."

Dery's wife, Yaffa, said Wednesday that her family would be fine after already being through so much. "We went through Pharaoh, we went through Hamas," she said. MK Mickey Rosenthal (Zionist Union) said that Dery should not have served as interior minister after being convicted of corruption in the 1990s. Rosenthal added that Dery is a corrupt man who stuffed his hands with public coffers and abused the trust of Israeli citizens who does not deserve to continue serving in the public sector.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit approved the investigation of Dery, who was convicted and jailed for corruption offences during his previous stint as interior minister in the 1990s, and now enjoys the immunity of a lawmaker. There is a gag order on details surrounding the investigation.

Haaretz has obtained information about the second case, which involves suspicions against a key player in Israel’s political system. 
Though both cases have been under investigation for the last few months, both are still at a relatively early stage, so it’s hard to predict whether they are liable to end in indictments. So far, neither of the politicians have been questioned under caution.

The case reported by Channel 2 last night involves suspicions of serious corruption. That investigation is more advanced than the second probe, which, Haaretz has learned, involves suspicions that interested parties financed some of the suspect’s political activity.

Both investigations began after the Knesset elections in March 2015.
In the early 1990s, Dery was suspended from his role as interior minister following allegations that took bribes while serving in public roles. He was then convicted and sentenced to three years in prison, and was released in July 2002 after serving two-thirds of his sentence.

The Supreme Court is still deliberating on an appeal from the Movement For Quality Government against Arye Dery's appointment as interior minister. In January State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan determined that naming Dery as minister was impossible from a legal standpoint and that he ought to be disqualified. Nitzan's position is different than that of Mandelblit, who said the appointment is not against the law.

In September, Dery was asked in an interview with Haaretz how a man who loves the good life, whose nine children all have apartments, who recently founded a family retreat at Moshav Safsufa and whose past friends include some very rich people, would want to become the leader of the "invisible" poor, a slogan he frequently trumpeted during the 2015 election.

The minister replied: "Okay listen I am proud, God bless, that I have an income. I have a home and my children have a home, God bless them. I know there are natural expectations for us to share the circumstances of a large part of the population, and to my great regret, the people I represent. But I am happy that I'm not there, and this does not diminish in the least my concerns for their welfare. That's my aspiration, for other people to get out of that situation, too."

Dery was then asked: "In any case, can you explain how you achieved a situation where all your offspring has a home? How you have a recently built vacation retreat in Moshav Safsoufa in Galilee? How did this happen? You spent most of your life as a public servant?"

The minister replied: "So what? Excuse me, with all due respect all my property is in plain view, out in the open, I did what I did. There are periods in which I was not in politics."

Dery went on: "Look, so you want me to go into detail? Okay, write it down. I bought an apartment on Hakablan Street for $225,000 by taking out a mortgage of around $100,000 and change. Property values on Hakablan Street have tripled and quadrupled in the past 10 to 20 years, and therefore I own an apartment worth four million shekels. Do you accept the answer? Very good. My children, God bless them, have married and received things from their spouses' families. I helped them out, my parents held them out. They took out mortgages and thanks to God they bought apartments. Sound good? Some of them purchased some of them didn't, some are on their way to a purchase, some with mortgages and all of that. And the house in Safsufa, great, do you want to listen? The house in Safsufa my mother, may she be well, paid for part of it with her inheritance, another portion was paid for by my brother Momo (attorney Shlomo Dery), and I paid for some of it, too."

"I don't want my children to inherit from me after I die. Let's enjoy what there is now. And we built a house that is entirely, believe me inside of the great Safsufa, you understand? A place where the land costs next to nothing, altogether it cost about three million shekels. It's not as though I went a built a house in Caesarea – and I have nothing against it – where land alone costs two million dollars. And we did not build 700 or 1,000 square meters. We built a nice house intended to be used by the entire large family, God willing. I took out a 1.5-million-shekel mortgage on the house on Hakablan Street so we could help build the house in Safsufa."

Upon Dery's return to politics following the last elections, sharp criticism was drawn regarding Netanyahu's intention to reappoint Dery to the very same office he was suspended from, however, the High Court rejected a petition against his Dery’s appointment and was eventually named interior minister.

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