Danziger - Tali Mayer - 05082011
Danziger leaving his Tel Aviv home Thursday ahead of the interrogation. Photo by Tali Mayer
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A Supreme Court justice was interrogated Thursday as a suspect for the first time in Israel's history, when police questioned Justice Yoram Danziger under caution about his relationship with Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani and the circumstances that led to his appointment as Bat Yam's attorney before his elevation to the bench.

The six-hour interrogation was part of a broader probe into alleged corruption in the Bat Yam municipality under Lahiani's management. Police are not expected to question the justice a second time.

The economic crime squad, which is handling the Bat Yam investigation, is expected to wrap up its inquiry shortly, as Danziger is the last person slated to be questioned. It will then transfer the findings to Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich, head of the police's investigations and intelligence division, who will review them before passing them on the prosecution, most likely within the coming weeks. Prosecutors will then decide whether to indict Lahiani and other senior Bat Yam officials, and on what charges.

At that stage, prosecutors will also decide whether to indict Danziger, and if so, on what charges.

Law enforcement officials familiar with the details of the case said the account of his dealings with Lahiani that Danziger gave the police Thursdaywas identical to the one he had already given twice before, when police questioned him as a witness rather than a suspect. They also said the session did nothing to dispel police's view that these dealings were problematic.

Unusually, Danziger was not questioned at the economic crime squad's headquarters in Lod, but at a different police facility in central Israel. The sources said this was done at Segalovich's orders so as to avoid embarrassing the justice.

In late 2010, police asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein for permission to investigate Danziger's connections with Lahiani, and particularly the circumstances of his appointment as Bat Yam's attorney once Lahiani became the city's mayor. Until Danziger was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2007, he was a private-sector attorney who headed his own law firm, and in this capacity, he had served as Lahiani's personal lawyer for about 20 years.

His legal work for Lahiani was connected mainly to the latter's real estate ventures. The two men also participated jointly in a real estate venture involving agricultural land near Netanya.

After Lahiani was elected mayor, the municipality hired Danziger to do various legal jobs for which it paid him a total of NIS 823,000. At the same time, Danziger was still serving as Lahiani's personal lawyer: For instance, he was the trustee for the latter's 45 percent stake in a local Bat Yam newspaper, Gal Gefen Tzahov. It later emerged that during Lahiani's tenure as mayor, the municipality bought more than NIS 280,000 worth of advertisements in the popular local.

The suspicions against Danziger include bribery and fraud, though police have not yet decided which, if either, they will recommend as charges.

When it became clear earlier this week that Weinstein planned to authorize police to question him under caution, Danziger announced that he was taking a leave of absence from the Supreme Court. That spared him the embarrassment of having Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch suspend him.

Police are currently leaning toward recommending that nine senior officials of the Bat Yam municipality be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The officials are suspected of having taken out bank loans of NIS 50,000 each at Lahiani's request, allegedly to cover the mayor's personal debts. In exchange, police suspect, Lahiani either promoted them or refrained from firing them.

Lahiani himself allegedly repaid the loans by depositing checks made out to "cash" in the officials' bank accounts each month.

Most of the officials confessed to the police that they took out the loans on Lahiani's behalf and at his request. Lahiani, however, insisted that this was a private initiative by one of his aides.

Lahiani himself is suspected of bribery and tax offenses. The latter are unrelated to the loan affair; they stem from sizable deposits that were made in his own accounts with no convincing explanation.