Haredi Leader Dery to Resign From Knesset Under Plea Deal

Dery will admit tax offenses and will resign from the Knesset, but he will not be barred from running for political office in future elections

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Shas Leader Arye Dery in the Knesset last month.
Shas Leader Arye Dery in the Knesset last month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced his intent Thursday to file an indictment against Arye Dery, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, for tax offenses.

The indictment is part of a plea agreement with Dery in which he consented to resign from the Knesset, but he will not be barred from running for political office in future elections.

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Dery will plead guilty to two counts of misreported transactions, failure to report income and irregularities in record keeping in connection with the sale of real estate in Jerusalem.

As part of the deal hammered out between Mendelblit and Dery's lawyer, Navot Tel-Zur, the two sides will also jointly ask the court for Dery to be sentenced to a suspended sentence and pay a fine of 180,000 shekels ($57,000). The entire plea agreement is subject to the court's approval.

With Dery's resignation from the Knesset, it will be unnecessary for Mendelblit to address whether the former interior minister's acts constituted moral turpitude, which would have barred him from running in the next Knesset election. The attorney general's office could still address the issue in the future, however.

The deal sparked criticism from good governance groups that said it let Dery off easy and paved his way for a swift political comeback despite his crimes.

"I thank the Creator for ending a nearly seven-year torturous investigation, an unbearably difficult time for me and my family," Dery responded in a statement. "The investigation began with a lot of noise under very serious suspicions, and as described by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, 'not even a mouse was born from this case.'"

Dery added that he would "take responsibility for mistakes made without malicious intent," and would focus on leading the Shas movement.

Even though Mendelblit refrained from requesting a ruling on the moral turpitude issue, the court has authority to decide on its own that Dery’s acts constituted moral turpitude – which would bar him from public office for seven years.

Mendelblit rejected a police recommendation from 2018 to additionally charge Dery with fraud, breach of trust, money laundering, obstruction of justice and perjury.

The investigation against Dery was opened six years ago. In February, a hearing was held on the case and the two sides have been negotiating a possible plea deal since then, a long-running saga that has drawn criticism of Mendelblit for the length of the proceedings.

The negotiations on a plea agreement encountered two major obstacles. The first was over which charges would remain against him and the wording of the allegations that Dery would admit to. The other issue was whether he would be fined or also be given a suspended sentence.

The suspended sentence in the final agreement 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 provided for a suspended sentence but did not impose a finding of moral turpitude.

Last month, sources with knowledge of the negotiations in Dery’s case said he was prepared to admit to tax offenses that did 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 insisted that he admit to premeditation to commit tax offenses.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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