Shlomo Benizri Asks for Pardon, Promises to Stay Out of Politics

Shlomo Benizri, the disgraced former Shas minister serving a four-year sentence for accepting bribes, submitted a pardon request yesterday to President Shimon Peres and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman.

Two years ago Jerusalem District Court sentenced the former health and social welfare minister to 18 months in prison for a number of violations including accepting bribes, breach of trust and obstructing justice, offenses the court found amounted to moral turpitude. Both Benizri and the state appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which extended the former lawmaker's sentence to four years.

Benizri was found to have accepted expensive favors from a contractor in exchange for inside information on foreign workers scheduled to arrive in Israel.

In his request, Benizri wrote that he is experiencing financial troubles, has no intention of returning to politics and has made important contributions to Israeli society during his long political career.

Benizri wrote that in extending his sentence, the Supreme Court failed to consider the great deal of time that had passed between his offenses and the end of his trial, nor his acquittal on several of the more severe crimes with which he was charged. He also blamed the media for subjecting him to unfair treatment, essentially convicting him before the trial had run its course.

"Rabbi Benizri's life has been completely overturned," the application stated. "His good name has been lost, his honor and that of his family have been turned to dust, the long political career he built with the sweat of his brow has disappeared, and while serving his sentence he has left a family fatherless and without income."

Last month Haaretz reported that the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, had submitted his own request for Benizri's pardon to Peres and Neeman. The Justice Ministry responded by noting that the court system can only handle pardon requests filed by an incarcerated individual or someone acting in his name.