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Middle East
Israeli MP convicted of corruption
Former health minister receives 18-month jail term and is suspended from parliament.
Last Modified: 27 Apr 2008 15:29 GMT
Shlomo Benizri has vowed to appeal
against his conviction [EPA]
An Israeli court has sentenced a member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and former minister to 18 months in jail on corruption and fraud charges, automatically suspending him from parliament.
 
Shlomo Benizri, 48, was also told on Sunday to pay a $23,000 fine in addition to the jail term, after state prosecutors demanded a stiffer sentence.
Benizri was found guilty of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bribes while serving in several government posts, including a stint as health minister, between 1996 and 2001.
 
Under Israeli law, an MP who is found guilty of severe offences is automatically suspended from parliament.
Shas has 12 seats in the Israeli parliament and is a key member of the governing coalition led by Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister.
 
Innocence claimed
 
Benizri's conviction is the latest in a number of scandals involving senior politicians in Israel.
 
He was said to have accepted money and favours from companies that brought foreign workers into Israel.
 
He was also accused of appointing friends and business associates to prominent positions.
 
He insisted he was innocent during the trial, which lasted more than two years and saw about 200 witnesses called to testify.
 
"Benizri committed a series of severe offences which are underscored by his position and status. He is a minister and a leader in Israel who has committed a sin," the judge said while passing sentence.
 
Benizri pleaded his innocence and vowed to appeal against the conviction. He will remain free until the appeal has been heard.
 
Benizri is considered close to Rabbi Ovadia Yossef, the party's spiritual leader.
 
Correspondents say it is unlikely that Benizri's conviction would affect the coalition.
Source:
Agencies
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