Israel’s Attorney General Considers Plea Deal for Netanyahu Ally Dery

Avichai Mendelblit, who is stepping down in February, is also expected to keep Arnon Mozes out of prison if the newspaper publisher confesses to bribery in one of the Netanyahu cases

Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz
Shas chief Arye Dery in the Knesset this week.
Shas chief Arye Dery in the Knesset this week. Credit: Emil Salman
Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is considering a plea deal for Arye Dery in which the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party would not be convicted of serious corruption for the second time in his career, sources familiar with the case say.

Also, Mendelblit is not likely to seek a prison sentence for Arnon Mozes if the media magnate admits to offering Benjamin Netanyahu a bribe, the sources said.

Mozes is a suspect in one of the two cases in which the former prime minister has been indicted on suspicion of offering favors in return for positive news coverage.

Mendelblit, set to leave office in February, launched an investigation into Dery in March 2016, a few weeks into his term. In 1999, Dery, a political ally of Netanyahu, served nearly two years in prison for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Before the probe launched in March 2016, the anti-money-laundering authority informed Mendelblit’s predecessor that huge sums from abroad had been deposited in a bank account of Dery’s brother, attorney Shlomo Dery, and from there on to Arye Dery’s account.

Also, an inquiry was later opened into suspicions that contributions to charities headed by Dery’s wife wound up with the family.

Meanwhile, the police and the Israel Tax Authority believe that Dery, a legislator and former interior minister, systematically misled the authorities by using cash. Shai Nitzan, the state prosecutor from 2013 to 2019, advised Mendelblit to indict Dery for tax offenses, money laundering and false reports to the state comptroller and Knesset speaker.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit last month.Credit: Ilan Assayag

A year and a half later, Mendelblit informed Dery that he planned to indict him for three tax offenses only.

About six months ago, Mendelblit held a hearing for Dery, setting him up for the possible deal. The sources say that after the hearing, Mendelblit’s aides contacted Dery’s lawyer and said the attorney general might agree to a deal. If the talks fail, Dery will be indicted.

Dery’s political future will hover over the negotiations. According to the sources, the Shas leader has considered leaving politics and instead might try to “run the party from home” as the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef once did. For now, however, Dery is a key member of the opposition and could still become a minister again in a future government.

According to the sources, Dery believes that if he is convicted, his crime would be considered one of moral turpitude, which could end his political career. The law stipulates that a Knesset member’s term ends the moment he or she is convicted of such an offense.

Both sides seem to have an interest in ending the saga soon. Mendelblit wants to clear his desk, and Dery, unlike Netanyahu, does not want to put his fate in the hands of the next attorney general, the sources say.

In any event, the case has been marred by foot-dragging; the offenses that Dery allegedly committed took place eight to 11 years ago.

Before his term ends, Mendelblit is also expected to rule on the fate of another ultra-Orthodox politician, former Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who is suspected of obstruction of justice and breach of trust. Litzman, also currently a legislator, is due to have a hearing and is expected to be indicted, the sources say.

Meanwhile, it appears unlikely that Mendelblit will have to make further decisions on the cases that have occupied him the most, Netanyahu's corruption affairs.

This spring, a former senior jurist who knows Netanyahu well told Haaretz that the defendants in the cases have a last window of opportunity to do a plea bargain before Mendelblit retires. “His replacement, who will probably be chosen by the Bennett-Lapid government, won’t dare to touch those cases,” the source said.

Netanyahu does not appear to be heading for a plea deal, as reflected in his recent decision to hire one more top lawyer in what he considers his toughest case, the lavish gifts from tycoons.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaking with Likud legislators this week.Credit: Emil Salman

In the second case involving alleged favors for positive media coverage, the lawyers of Shaul and Iris Elovitch are also not expected to seek a plea deal.

The only defendant who has signaled a willingness to do a deal is Mozes, the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily who has already negotiated with the prosecution. Mendelblit and the prosecutors, however, rejected Mozes’ bid for a lighter charge.

The indictment says that Netanyahu “conveyed that bribe offers are a tool that can be used to advance mutual interests of senior civil servants and businesspeople, and that there is nothing wrong with bribery deals.”

If Mozes confesses to the bribery offense he has been charged with, Mendelblit may show generosity and drop the request for a prison sentence.

Also, in the next few weeks the Justice Ministry will decide what to do with a number of complaints against former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, mainly the $20,000 in cash he received from Australian billionaire James Packer for his daughter’s wedding.

Cohen has told investigative news program “Uvda” that the Mossad’s legal adviser allowed him to accept the gift; the legal-adviser argument has also been made for Netanyahu.

“It’s hard to believe that a legal adviser would permit a civil servant to accept a gift of such magnitude,” a source familiar with the matter said.

Ministry officials have asked the Mossad for a written legal opinion. If Mendelblit decides to take the inquiry further, more details surrounding the gift from Packer might be brought to light.

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