Interior Minister Arye Dery and his wife, Yaffa, were questioned on Monday morning as part of a corruption investigation. Arye Dery's questioning lasted 11 hours straight.
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Among other things, the Derys were expected to be asked to explain how they financed real estate they bought in recent years, such as their house in Kfar Hoshen, or Safsufa, a village in northern Israel.
Fourteen other suspects were taken in for questioning earlier Monday morning in connection to the probe into Dery. Among the suspects are a businessman and philanthropist, a director general of a government ministry and figures in Dery's bureau, who are registered as employees of an ultra-Orthodox educational NGO, Mifalot Simha, run by Yaffa Dery. Other relatives of Dery have also been summoned by police.
Last week, Haaretz reported that a long list of Israel’s leading tycoons and bankers contributed millions of shekels over the last 15 years to Mifalot Simha.
Arye Dery was convicted of bribery and fraud in 2000 and served 22 months in prison. During the decade between his release from prison and his retaking of the leadership of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party in 2012, the NGO received many of its donations from Israel’s economic elite.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit opened an inquiry against Dery on suspicion of corruption last March, at the end of a probe into the minister’s financial affairs that lasted several months. The probe began during the term of Mendelblit’s predecessor, Yehuda Weinstein, and included an inquiry in Germany.
Dery was questioned a year and two months after being identified as a suspect. This is an unprecedented delay; senior figures are usually questioned not more than a few weeks after a criminal investigation is announced. Those working on the case have explained that initially, the police demonstrated low motivation because the evidence was circumstantial and pointed to tax violations rather than bribery.
But new developments emerged in recent months. One touched on unusual movement of funds in the NGO run by Dery's wife, which employs three of her daughters. The first indications pointing to a new direction in the probe reached the Shas party a few months ago, when a sexual extortion scandal erupted around a party member serving on Jerusalem's city council. During the probe, one of the suspects was asked numerous questions regarding the financial conduct of Mifalot Simha, which received a steady stream of millions of shekels from wealthy tycoons for years. The interest in the NGO raised a red flag for a few party members. Later, when the police announced that the minister's wife was wanted for questioning, those close to Dery already knew that Mifalot Simha's activities would be a main focus of the investigation.
Monday's arrest of 14 suspects, including Dery's relatives and close associates, most of whom are involved in Mifalot Simha's activity, suggests that the suspicion is that the NGO Yaffa Dery founded in '97 served as a funnel for funds that reached the family in underhanded ways.