Former Shas Knesset Member Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement

A former member of Israel’s Knesset has admitted in court to embezzling money from a fund affiliated with the Shas party and is likely to go to jail as a result.

Yair Levy pleaded guilty Monday to illegally taking money from the El Hamayan cultural association during his service as director-general of the association, which is affiliated with his fervently Orthodox party.

The prosecution thereupon asked for a 40-month prison term under a plea-bargain arrangement worked out by the Tel Aviv District Attorney’s Office and the defense counsel.

Under the deal, Levy admitted to stealing 310,000 shekels ($118,000), an amount smaller than the 500,000 shekels cited in the original charge sheet.

The agreement was struck in the midst of lengthy hearings on charges of theft, fraud, forgery and breach of trust against Levy and his wife, Geula.

Under the terms of the plea bargain, Geula Levy will get a suspended sentence.

A former speaker of the Knesset, Dov Shilansky, led a procession of public figures who took the stand Monday as character witnesses on Levy’s behalf.

The spiritual mentor of Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, sent a letter to Judge Micha Lindenstaus, citing a rabbinic ruling to the effect that “where one comes to sentence a man, the man’s good deeds should be recounted.”

A venerable leader of the rigorously Orthodox Ashkenazic community, 95-year-old Rabbi Eliezer Shach, offered to give character testimony if the court would come to his home, but the judge declined the offer.

Levy himself showed emotion, for the first time during the trial, when the court was told of his adoption and rearing of a young, homeless boy.

Levy was due to be sentenced Tuesday, and his wife at a later date.

Under Israeli law, a judge is not required to hand down his sentence in conformity with the terms of a plea bargain. In practice, though, the vast majority of such bargains are indeed mirrored in the court’s verdict.

Sixteen people called by the prosecution during the trial were declared hostile witnesses when they backtracked from statements made earlier to the police.

Levy, who now ranks seventh on the Shas party slate, missed out on a seat in the current Knesset by a couple of hundred votes.

Shas-linked legal tribulations are not over. The party’s lone member of the Cabinet, Interior Minister Arye Deri, is also under investigation for financial improprieties allegedly involving the illegal transfer of public funds, though he has not been indicted.

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