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Police recommend Israeli interior minister be charged for corruption

Former convict and Shas party head investigated over allegations of bribery, fraud and money laundering
Deri had previously spent two years in prison over similar charges (AFP)

A corruption probe into Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri is now being transferred to the state prosecution, the police announced on Tuesday. They are suggesting he be charged.

Deri - who also holds the post of minister of the development of the Negev and Galilee - has been under investigation since 2016 over suspicions of “bribery, fraud and breach of trust, tax offences, and money laundering,” police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said in a statement.

The investigation in partly focused on large money transfers to Deri linked to land sales.

“The findings of the investigation are that there [is] evidentiary basis against Deri that he committed fraud and breach of trust in connection with his conduct while serving as a minister, as well as for the commission of tax offences in significant amounts of millions of shekels [hundreds of thousands of dollars], money laundering, disruption of court proceedings regarding his assets and income,” Rosenfeld said.

Deri, who leads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and has served as interior minister twice before, from 1988-92 and in 1993, spent a decade out of politics after being sentenced to three years in prison in 2000 for taking $155,000 in bribes. His sentence was reduced to a third for good behaviour.

He returned to government in 2015 as economy minister - but stepped down that same year over his opposition to an unpopular gas deal that many in Israel viewed as going against anti-trust laws. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped into the ministerial role - a portfolio he still holds to this day - and sealed the deal with US company Noble Energy.

According to the police statement, most of the alleged crimes date to the time before Deri returned from the political wilderness by being elected to parliament in 2013. However, some relate to his current term as interior minister, which he took up in 2015.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Reuters)

Israel has been rocked in recent years by corruption investigations against high-level political figures - including Netanyahu, who has been embroiled in at least five cases since 2015.

Netanyahu corruption probe: The five cases hanging over Israeli prime minister
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While Netanyahu was not named in the charges earlier this month, Israeli police recommended that several of his close associates be indicted over suspicions of taking bribes in order to seal a $2bn submarine deal.

The submarine scandal, also known as Case 3000, has sparked furore in Israel and has been called one of the worst corruption cases in the country’s history.

Even Netanyahu’s family has not been immune, with both his wife and son caught up in a series of scandals.

There has been speculation that Netanyahu may succumb to calls from his political coalition for early elections in order to win a renewed mandate while Israel's attorney-general decides whether to indict him.