Police Suspect Israel's Interior Minister of Accepting $58,000 Bribe

Though described as a loan, the money was given to Interior Minister Arye Dery without an agreement and no interest has been paid

Interior Minister Arye Dery arriving for a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, November 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

The money that Interior Minister Arye Dery received from a businessman, which both men described as a loan, was given without a loan agreement and no interest was paid on it. This is one reason why police suspect the money was a bribe.

The businessman, Ilan Sharabi, says Jewish law forbids charging interest.

Two weeks ago, Haaretz reported that Dery received 200,000 shekels ($58,000) from Sharabi in 2011 — after he announced his plans to return to politics but before he reentered the Knesset. He never reported this money to the state comptroller, as required by law.

Haaretz also reported that shortly after becoming interior minister, Dery met with Sharabi about an issue related to a company the businessman owns. Dery later directed ministry staffers to look into the issue, without revealing that he had received money from Sharabi.

Sharabi made two deposits to Dery’s bank account in 2011, each for 200,000 shekels. The first amount was repaid later that year but the second only late last year. Dery claims he forgot about the second and remembered only when police asked him about the money.

After Dery became interior minister, Sharabi asked him to intervene in a tax dispute between Ramat Hasharon and the town’s Kfar Hayarok youth village. Sharabi’s company is based in Kfar Hayarok, and Ramat Hasharon was demanding one million shekels in betterment taxes for the land the company occupies.

Dery asked his ministry’s legal department to help, but it ultimately said it couldn’t do so.

Police began probing Dery’s finances back in 2015, but the investigation isn’t expected to end anytime soon.

Dery’s office said he has refused to respond to previous leaks from the investigation and won’t respond to this one, either. “The minister will give his answers only to investigators, not the media,” it said.

Sharabi’s lawyer, Dov Gilad Cohen, said in a response that Sharabi and Dery have been friends for years. He said Sharabi periodically loaned money to Dery, when Dery was a private citizen. All the loans were repaid promptly except for the last, and none bore interest, because Jewish law prohibits charging interest.

Sharabi sought Dery’s help on the tax issue at the request of Kfar Hayarok’s director, and because he admires the youth village’s work and wanted to help it, Cohen said. This had “no connection” to the loan he gave Dery five years earlier, Cohen continued.

Finally, Cohen said, Sharabi plans to move his company out of Kfar Yarok in a few weeks, so he had “no personal interest in the matter, other than a desire to help.”