Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar - Tal Cohen
Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar leaving the police fraud unit headquarters in Bat Yam last year. Photo by Tal Cohen
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Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar will be indicted on charges of taking more than NIS 2 million in bribes in exchange for advancing real estate projects in the city and laundering an estimated NIS 5 million between 2003 and 2008, the state prosecution announced yesterday.

Bar, who is serving his fifth term in office since he was first elected in 1989, will also be charged with fraud, forgery, breach of trust, obstruction of justice and evading taxes, pending a hearing, the prosecution said.

Prosecutors said they are also planning to indict five real estate developers suspected of bribing Bar to promote projects in which they had a financial interest. Three of them are also suspected of money laundering, and one of forgery and obstruction of justice.

At 76, Bar is one of the longest-serving mayors in the country. He came to politics after a long career in the army and the police force, and has been under investigation for the past several years.

The probe became public knowledge in December 2008, when national fraud unit investigators raided the homes and offices of various suspects and seized documents.

Yesterday prosecutors told Bar's lawyer, Navot Tel-Zur, that the mayor was being accused of taking bribes in four separate cases. He is also accused of taking out two controversial loans.

One of the loans came from an English firm, and part of it was taken over by real estate developers whose business interests Bar is accused of promoting.

Bar is accused of taking out the second loan from another real estate developer with business interests in Ramat Gan. Prosecutors say the 2003 deal was actually a bribe disguised as a loan to make the agreement seem aboveboard.

Before the Passover holiday, the prosecution obtained liens on the bank accounts and other assets belonging to Bar and the rest of the suspects in the case, including the mayor's insurance policies and his NIS 6 million home in Ramat Gan, to make it easier to impound their property if they are later convicted of money laundering.

According to several sources in city hall, Bar has exhibited the power to get projects passed or buried with ease, and he prioritized local planning and construction. As the Ramat Gan website puts it, Bar "led the revolution in the city's approach to construction and development."

He became increasingly popular over the years in Ramat Gan and won a decisive majority at the polls. Many veteran municipal officials can be counted among his supporters, with some describing his as pleasant and attentive.

But Ramat Gan city council member Avi Lillian of the Green Party isn't a fan.

Lillian says he will never forget the zoning committee meeting that took place a year ago, shortly after police first recommended that Bar be indicted, at which the mayor took a mouse trap out of his bag and waved it in front of everyone present.

"This is a mouse trap," Bar announced. Speaking to Lillian, a veterinarian, he said: "You are a wretched mouse, a rodent, idiotic, stupid."

The incident demonstrates what many describe as Bar's hot temper. He is known for storming out of meetings and slamming the door behind him, for shouting at council members and humiliating them.

"He's a callous, aggressive and violent person," said Lillian. "Long before the court had its say, this man was not someone who could continue being mayor. He should have been sent home long ago."

Sources say opposition members on the city council, and anyone who disagrees with Bar, typically get to see the mayor's unpleasant side. According to some of his rivals, this was clearly connected to the police investigations against him.