The Arye Dery affair was the first important criminal case that Avichai Mendelblit handled as attorney general. Only a few weeks after being appointed to the job, he instructed the police to open an investigation of the Shas chairman over receiving millions in bribes. In another few weeks, Mendelblit will finish his term in office, and it now seems that from the mega-case only an emaciated skeleton remains.
The Dery investigation was one of the most resounding failures of the Israeli law enforcement system in recent years, a failure in which the police’s Lahav 433 national investigations unit, State Prosecutor’s Office and their boss, Mendelblit, all had a part.
There is absolutely no reason why an investigation of a public figure, or an ordinary citizen either, should be dragged out over so many years, especially when it is a local affair, with most of the incidents taking place between the Givat Shaul and Har Shmuel neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
In addition to the injustice suffered by the subject of the investigation for six years, the dragging out of the probe also fuels the conspiracy theories that have blossomed since Benjamin Netanyahu became a suspect, according to which the Justice Ministry is holding politicians hostage.
Of course, such a lengthy investigation and such torpid decision-making guarantees that when the criminal case does reach the docket, it stinks of mold.
The initial suspicions against Dery were weighty: receiving bribes from interested parties via large bank transfers to his brother, attorney Shlomo Dery, and the use of major business figures’ donations to the charities managed by his wife, Yaffa, to pad the family coffers.
Unit 433 investigators found no strong evidence for these charges, but in the course of the investigation, suspicions arose of various tax violations by Arye Dery: deposits of millions in cash to his bank accounts, and all manner of tricks and devices allegedly meant to reduce the payments he owed the state. “The behavior of a money changer on Allenby Street” is how a source familiar with the case described Dery’s conduct.
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Former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan recommended that a massive indictment be filed against Dery for a myriad of serious tax crimes, but the attorney general took his time, and after a year and a half announced that he intends to try Dery on only three charges – but ones featuring the words fraud, subterfuge and cunning.
Haaretz reported months ago that Mendelblit is headed toward a lenient deal with Dery. In recent months the Shas chairman’s attorney held a series of meetings with representatives of the state’s prosecutor and attorney general. The main bone of contention was the question of moral turpitude, and with it the continued political career of the only man in the country’s history to ever return from Ma’asiyahu Prison to cabinet meetings.
Dery knows that if moral turpitude is stamped on his forehead yet again – even without an actual prison sentence, or even work release – he will find it very difficult to make a second return to the ranks of ministers. He realized that it would be most difficult for the High Court of Justice to legalize a situation in which a man twice convicted of crimes with moral turpitude serves as a minister.
Therefore, under the plea bargain yet to be finalized, Dery is expected to leave the Knesset, so that the question of moral turpitude would become moot and only become relevant again if and when he became a ministerial candidate. In its current form, the deal convicts Dery on two lighter counts than those originally attributed to him by Mendelblit, so that the question of moral turpitude is left to the court. With this move, Dery would spare himself what he perceives as a nightmare: a return to the dock, cross-examinations, negative press and the risk that the court will throw the book at him.
In the months since the establishment of the Bennett-Lapid government, Dery has been the man who managed to connect opposites like the far right and the Joint List for tactical moves and votes against the coalition. He’s the most sophisticated politician in the camp trying to topple the government. One should not discount the option of Dery retiring from the Knesset and the government for good, and running Shas from outside the executive and legislative branches. For Mendelblit and the prosecution, the plea bargain with Dery is a harsh final note – an extreme example of the major theme in the outgoing attorney general’s term: horribly slow treatment of volatile cases.
Quick investigations and decisive rulings on matters concerning public servants are the foremost duty of the attorney general. Dragging cases out over long periods of time not only eliminates any possibility of an effective investigation and abuses the suspect, it also allows conspiracy theories to hatch and grow.