Supreme Court judges on Wednesday morning decided to aggravate former Minister Shlomo Benizri's sentence, and sent him to four years in prison instead of 18 months in the original sentence. The former Shas minister was also ordered to pay a fine of NIS 250,000 (about $63,555).
Benizri was convicted by the Jerusalem's District Court in April 2008 on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, committed during his tenure as labor and welfare minister. Both the State and Benizri appealed the original sentence.
Judge Edmond Levy explained, "The growing corruption in the Israeli government institutions required action by setting a higher price tag."
Judges Levy, Esther Hayut and Hanan Melcer ordered Benizri to report for detention on the morning of September 1. "We are sorry for the minister, whose top and influential position deteriorated, and we are sorry for his family members," Justice Levy wrote.
Shas MK wants jury 'like in US'
A choked up Benizri said in response, "This is a difficult day. For me, for my elderly parents, for my wife, for my eight children, some of whom were not even born into this affair. For eight or nine years I have been going through a tough delay of justice. I have been persecuted, degraded for taking a bribe.
"Eventually, the court ruled unequivocally that I did not take one penny into my pocket, although the State Prosecutor's Office tried to define it as the greatest case of bribery. Bribery without taking a bribe. This is why I cannot understand the severity of this sentence.
"I find this court ruling very painful, because it doesn't hurt just me. It hurts my family, my children, tens of thousands of people I care for every day. I'll sit down, study the ruling, and give an answer."
Knesset Member Nissim Zeev (Shas) called in response to the sentence for a reform in the legal system. "I believe we must consider having a jury like in the United States. The people should be the one to rule about the offense."
Ze'ev, who was present at the court during the reading of the sentence, said, "I believe there is an intentional discriminatory policy here… There is no doubt. I think the punishment is disproportionate to the offense."
Three years ago, Benizri was indicted for passing on advance information to building contractor Moshe Sela which included details on the quota of foreign laborers expected to arrive in Israel.
The prosecution said that in return for this information the Shas member had received perks worth millions of shekels, including large sums of money, expensive furniture, cleaning services, electrical appliances and help in expanding his apartment.
The former minister was also convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud and disrupting court proceedings. His spiritual and political patron, Rabbi Reuven Elbaz, was convicted of facilitating and accepting bribes and conspiracy to commit fraud.