Jailed Shas Minister Expected to Be Denied Pardon

Shlomo Benizri, serving a four-year sentence for taking bribes, expected to remain in prison after justice minister's ruling.


Former Shas party minister Shlomo Benizri
Emil Salman

The Justice Ministry's pardons department is expected to recommend turning down former minister Shlomo Benizri's pardon request, Haaretz has learned.

Benizri was convicted some two years ago of taking bribes, breach of trust, conspiracy to commit a crime and obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to four years in prison after the Supreme Court accepted the state's appeal against the 18-month sentence handed down by a lower court.

The final decision will be made by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and President Shimon Peres. However, so far the minister and president have accepted most of the pardons' department's recommendations.

Department officials believe the pardon request should be dismissed in view of the brief period Benizri has served so far and the grave corruption he was convicted of. The former minister's conduct was castigated by the Supreme Court.

Benizri asked the president to consider his great contribution to Israeli society over the years. "The long years and miscarriage of justice he underwent until the verdict, together with the heavy penalty, are tantamount to 'a very heavy and deterring' penalty," Benizri's attorneys wrote.

Benizri wrote that he left behind "a family with no father and breadwinner, burdened with heavy debts from the trial ... the court is now required to a measure of mercy, which is conspicuously missing from the verdict."

The justices said in their verdict that the penalty for government corruption must be harsher than before in order to serve as a deterrent."

Justice Edmond Levy wrote "I'm really sorry for Benizri, the rabbi who preached Torah to others but did not refrain from taking bribes himself. I'm sorry for the minister who deteriorated from his lofty, influential status to such depths, and I'm sorry for Benizri the family man, whose conviction causes great suffering to his family members, who have not sinned."

However, accepting growing government corruption is like accepting degeneration and total loss of confidence in public administration, he said.

Benizri, who as labor minister was in charge of the Employment Service, helped his friend Moshe Sela, who brought in foreign workers, for an NIS 100,000 bribe.

Benizri's spiritual and political patron, Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, was convicted of brokering the bribe and conspiring to commit a crime, as some of the money was earmarked for the yeshiva he headed.