End of Deri Affair: Court Decision - Wednesday

Taking their places tomorrow in the Supreme Court will be justices Shlomo Levin, Deputy President, heading the panel, Eliyahu Mazza, and Yaakov Kedmi. They are to decide on the issue that will seal Arie Deri's political fate: did he or did he not accept bribes from the three associates who faced charges together with him at the District Court? Their decision will bring to an end the affair that commenced with the publication of the "Yediot Ahronot" investigative report in 1990, followed by a police probe, on conclusion of which, three and a half years later, Deri was indicted at the Jerusalem District Court on the principal count of accepting a bribe. Also charged at that time on counts of bribery were three of his close associates, Moshe Weinberg, Arie Weinberg and Yom-Tov Rubin.

Jerusalem District Court judges Yaacov Zemach, Moussia Arad and Miriam Naor upheld the prosecution's position. They determined that Arie Deri had accepted, over a five-year period while assistant to the Minister of the Interior to the time he served as Minister of the Interior, a sum of $155,000 in bribes, paid by the other three defendants. He was also convicted of fraudulently obtaining from the State a sum of NIS 3.5 million in real values, and of breach of trust.

In mid-April 1999, Deri was sentenced to a four-year prison term and a fine of NIS 250,000.

In May last year, Deri lodged with the Supreme Court, an appeal against both his conviction and the severity of his sentence. His three associates, likewise convicted, also appealed to the Supreme Court, while the State merely appealed the leniency of the sentence meted out to Yom-Tov Rubin. All material relating to the hearings was forwarded by the District Court to the Supreme Court. The judges were given six months in which to study the material before starting to hear the appeal. Joining the Supreme Court appeal on behalf of the defence, was Deri's associate Adv. Yigal Arnon, who was the dominant figure in the hearing of the appeals. Following slight delays, since Arnon had to study the material, and also due to a slight medical problem, the appeal hearing commenced on January 28.

The appeal was heard over a three-week period, during which the parties submitted their pleadings. Chief prosecutor Yehoshua Resnick reiterated the allegation underlying Deri's conviction in the District Court, whereby, since 1985, while he served as advisor to the Minister of the Interior, over a five-year period, he accepted bribes totalling, in all, $155,000. Deri's counsel Attorneys Arnon and Nevot Tel-Tzur once more countered that all these moneys represented gifts and support that Deri received over the years from the late adoptive parents of his wife Yaffa, the couple Isser and Esther Werdeber.

In the appeal, the defence endeavoured to show that Yaffa's adoption carried greater significance than assigned it by the District Court, and that the relationship between Werdeber and Deri had not soured, as determined. The defence pointed out that the couple had left an estate worth $300,000, of which Deri inherited $200,000. The defence also tried to show that Esther Werdeber had not wanted to give Deri an affidavit confirming that they had given him financial support, not because such an affidavit would have been false, as the District Court determined, but due to her fear of the publicity the affidavit would be given. Werdeber was afraid of Polish Holocaust survivors discovering that she and her husband had dealt in commerce during the Holocaust, and also feared the US tax authorities.

Regarding the sentence, the defence pleaded that Deri had been sufficiently punished due to the delay of justice and the publicity accorded the trial. Resnick pleaded that a four-year prison sentence was not a severe sentence where a bribe-taking cabinet minister was concerned. This sentence should serve as a warning to any public servant tempted to think that bribes can be accepted.

Following the sentencing, the court acceded to the defence's request and postponed activation of the sentence and the commencement of the prison term until the conclusion of the hearings. This practise has only recently gained currency, and Deri was one of those included in it.

Published by Israel's Business Arena on 11 July 2000

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