High Court Orders Indicted Bat Yam Mayor to Step Down on Eve of Local Elections

But Lahiani allowed to run in Tuesday's race.

Two days before Tuesday's local elections, the High Court of Justice on Sunday removed Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani from his post. However, following its precedent in the cases of Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso and Ramat Hasharon Mayor Yitzhak Rochberger, the High Court allowed Lahiani to run for reelection on Tuesday. He was indicted at the beginning of the month on two counts of accepting bribes, fraud, breach of trust, tax evasion, money laundering and perjury.

The justices said that even though they were uncomfortable with the idea of Lahiani running in the election because of the seriousness of the charges against him, they could not legally prevent him from doing so, adding that the right to vote and to be elected was more important than their sense of discomfort.

Justice Miriam Naor noted the decision in the Rochberger and Gapso cases, in which the High Court decision was six in favor of removing them and only Supreme Court President Asher Grunis dissenting. Despite that ruling, the Bat Yam city council decided not to remove Lahiani as mayor, and the Ometz good-government NGO petitioned the High Court to order Lahiani to step down and cancel his bid for reelection. Naor criticized the city council for its decision.

"Lahiani committed these crimes, claims the indictment, while clearly abusing his position. In light of the seriousness of the acts attributed to Lahiani, even though this is an indictment and not a conviction, Lahiani's continued tenure could possibly cause serious damage to the public's faith, to ethical values and the rule of law," wrote Naor in her decision.

Even though city council members gave decisive import to the closeness of the elections and the presumption of innocence, Naor made it clear, as in the Rochberger case, that the city council should have considered not just the closeness of the elections and the presumption of innocence, but also the question of improper behavior. Regarding the claim that Lahiani's case was different from Gapso's and Rochberger's because of the length of time since he had been questioned by police, Naor wrote that the timing of the case was regrettable, and that the prosecution should try not to file such indictments so close to election day, but that because of the seriousness of the charges and Lahiani's refusal to step down, there was no choice but to remove him - even for such a short period of time.

She called the city council's decision not to remove Lahiani extremely unreasonable, and that because Lahiani was running for reelection there were clear grounds for the court to intervene.

Lahiani is charged with taking bribes from local businessmen in return for municipal permits. He is also suspected of taking loans from subordinates and for not revealing his stake in a local newspaper that received ads worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from the city over the years, and for hiding from the authorities the money he received.

Amit Shabi