Shas MK Shlomo Benizri has been convicted in a Jerusalem Magistrates Court of accepting bribes and other crimes, for which he faces up to 13 years in prison.

The main prosecution witness in the two-year-long trial was the briber himself, Moshe Sela, who turned state's witness and testified, "Benizri helped me and I helped him."  Benizri was convicted of receiving expensive gifts and services from Sela, a contractor who owns an employment agency, in exchange for transferring to him secret government information and decisions regarding foreign workers.

In addition, Benizri's spiritual mentor Rabbi Reuven Elbaz was convicted of mediating the bribes. Some of the bribe money found its way to Rabbi Elbaz's yeshiva, the court ruled.

Benizri has maintained his innocence throughout, refusing to entertain a plea bargain, and the court found him innocent of some of the charges against him.

Mild Calls for Benizri's Suspension

Two MKs - Ran Cohen of Meretz and Yuval Shteinitz of the Likud - said that Benizri should suspend himself from the Knesset.  In general, however, it was noted that MKs did not rush to comment on the conviction.

If the court rules that the conviction is one of "moral turpitude," as is likely, Benizri will find himself automatically suspended from the Knesset, according to a law legislated only last year.

Shas History

Benizri is the fifth Shas MK to have been convicted of a crime since the party's inception in the 1980's.  If his expected appeal is rejected, he will apparently be the third Shas MK to sit in prison. 

Married with eight children, Benizri served in the army, then became religiously observant and studied in Rabbi Elbaz's Or HaChaim yeshiva in Jerusalem.  This is his fifth term in the Knesset, in which he has served since 1992, and he has also served as Minister of Health and Minister of Labor and Social Welfare.