High Court Orders Ramat Gan Mayor to Explain His Refusal to Resign

Court gave Zvi Bar, who was indicted on serious corruption charges - three weeks to respond.

The High Court of Justice Tuesday ordered the mayor of Ramat Gan, Zvi Bar, to explain his refusal to resign from his job after being indicted on serious corruption charges.

The court gave him three weeks to submit his response, and will hold a hearing on a petition to force him to resign next month. The court also ordered the Ramat Gan city council to explain why it has not removed Bar from his post.

Supreme Court Justices Edna Arbel, Elyakim Rubinstein and Uzi Vogelman said they will hold the next hearing by mid-July, since local elections will be held this October.

Bar was indicted four months ago for accepting NIS 1.9 million in bribes from real estate developers in exchange for advancing their interests. He is also charged with fraud, breach of trust, money laundering and obstructing justice.

The original petition to oust Bar was filed two years ago by a member of the city council, Dr. Avi Lilian. After the indictment was filed, the High Court ordered the city council to discuss dismissing Bar, but they voted against doing so.

Lilian’s lawyer, Ofer Lerinman, said the order issued by the court Tuesday was a major step forward and a “yellow light” for Bar, and shows the court is willing to consider making a precedent-setting ruling against the mayor.

A lawyer for the city council countered that there was little to be learned from Tuesday’s decision, but it only bolstered his demand that the case by heard by an expanded panel of seven due to the seriousness of the matter.

Two weeks ago, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein told the High Court that Bar is not fit to continue in office in light of the serious charges against him. Weinstein also said the city council’s decision not to oust Bar was “extremely unreasonable and cannot stand.”

The law requires the head of a local authority to be removed from office only if convicted of an offense that entails moral turpitude. But Weinstein said a mayor’s term can and should be terminated earlier under special circumstances. According to Weinstein, the offenses of which Bar stands accused are very serious, show a pattern of behavior over many years and were committed while he held public office. In fact, it was his public office that made it possible for him to commit the alleged crimes.

Bar’s attorneys, Navot Tel-Zur and Yaron Lipshes, told the court in their response that there are serious problems with the indictment filed against Bar and that the city council saw no reason to depose him. They also noted that Bar must be presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

The alleged crimes Bar took place before the last municipal election in 2008, and Bar was reelected even though the public knew police were investigating these allegations, they said. Tel-Zur and Lipshes also warned against setting a precedent by deposing a mayor who hasn’t been convicted.

Emil Salman