Zvi Bar - Ofer Vaknin - 22122011
Zvi Bar Photo by Ofer Vaknin
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The Tel Aviv administrative court on Wednesday ordered the Ramat Gan Municipality to cancel part of a dedication ceremony scheduled for Thursday to name the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange complex after the city's current mayor, Zvi Bar.

The court agreed to a request by the Ometz good government group that the naming should be put on hold until the court considers Ometz's petition objecting to the step in light of the fact that Bar is currently the subject of a criminal investigation.

The prosecutor's office has announced its intention to indict Bar, subject to a prior hearing, on charges including taking a bribe.

The Ramat Gan city council passed a resolution at the end of November to name the Diamond Exchange complex after the mayor at the initiative of the chairman of the local Meretz faction, Tzahi Zeliha. Fourteen council members voted in favor, two voted against, two abstained and one said he would not attend in protest of the idea.

The mayor said he himself had no part in the initiative but did not oppose it. The management of city hall had already decided on the step before the council action as part of Thursday's commemoration of Ramat Gan's 90th anniversary.

The city's attorney, Ilan Bombach, told the court Bar enjoys a presumption of innocence and the decision to name the diamond trading district after the mayor was taken legally and without Bar's intervention.

Suspicions of criminal wrongdoing have dogged Bar for much of his current term. He has been mayor for 22 years.

Three years ago, he was questioned by the police, which in April recommended that he be criminally charged with receiving a bribe, money laundering, forgery, fraud, breach of trust and obstruction of justice as well as tax law violations. A hearing was held to give Bar an opportunity to present his position, and the case is now awaiting a decision by the prosecutor on whether to file an indictment. The mayor denies any wrongdoing.

Bar has been accused of involvement in four separate real estate-related cases and is alleged to have taken more than NIS 2 million in bribes from developers in exchange for advancing their business interests in Ramat Gan, particularly with the local planning and building committee.

The prosecutor filed an indictment this month against one of the developers, Emanuel Arbib, an Italian citizen living in London.

The judge in the Ometz petition, Kobi Vardi, said although technically the naming of the complex could be reversed, that would cause even more harm to the mayor, and suggested that the parties compromise and go ahead with the 90th anniversary ceremony without naming the complex for the mayor.

Bombach said it was an integral part of the event and without it, the ceremony would be canceled. The municipality confirmed that it would respect the court ruling, but complained the judge had not considered the merits of the petition.