Ultra-Orthodox Shas Leader Arye Dery is expected to sign a plea bargain, admitting to tax offenses and resign from the Knesset, according to Israel’s Channel 12 News.
The deal would make it unnecessary to rule whether the former interior minister's acts constituted moral turpitude, thereby allowing him to run in the next Knesset election.
Dery is charged with three tax offenses in connection with the sale of property in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul neighborhood and two counts of failure to report income.
If it were to be found that his actions did constitute moral turpitude, Dery would be barred from public office for seven years.
The plea deal is being hammered out between Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and Dery’s lawyer, Navot Tel-Zur. According to its reported terms, Dery would pay a fine and may also be given a suspended sentence, but he would not be sentenced to actual jail time.
Even if Mendelblit forgoes a request for a ruling on the moral turpitude issue, any plea agreement that the two sides hash out is still subject to approval by the court, which has authority to decide on its own that Dery’s acts constituted moral turpitude.
Mendelblit rejected a police recommendation from 2018 to additionally charge Dery with fraud, breach of trust, money laundering, obstruction of justice, and perjury.
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The investigation against Dery was opened six years ago. In February, a hearing was held on the case and since then, the two sides have been negotiating a possible plea. Mendelblit has come in for criticism for the length of time that the case has remained pending.
The negotiations on a plea agreement have encountered two major sticking points. The first is which charges will remain against him and the wording of the allegations that Dery will admit to. The other issue is whether he will be fined or also given a suspended sentence.
A suspended sentence does not necessarily imply that his acts involved moral turpitude. In a plea agreement that the prosecution signed last month with former cabinet minister Haim Katz, for example, the agreement provides for a suspended sentence but does not impose a finding of moral turpitude.
Last month, sources with knowledge of the negotiations in Dery’s case said he is prepared to admit to tax offenses that do not include criminal intent, in the hope that it would pave the way for Mendelblit to agree that there was no moral turpitude in his actions. But the prosecution has insisted that he admit to premeditation to commit tax offenses.
If Dery admits to offenses that involve clear criminal intent, Mendelblit won’t have the leeway to decide that there was no moral turpitude in his conduct.