Amid Graft Charges, Israeli Mayor Suspended for Up to a Year

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Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani, who has been indicted on corruption charges, will be suspended from his post in two weeks for up to a year, an Interior Ministry committee has ruled.

Lahiani has been charged with accepting bribes, fraud, breach of trust, tax evasion, money laundering and perjury. His lawyers say he denies any wrongdoing and is confident of an acquittal.

The committee this week also suspended Lahiani from his seat on the local finance committee, tenders committee and planning and building committee. He also may not sit on the board of any city corporation.

At the committee meeting, Lahiani agreed to a suspension but wanted it to start on April 1. The state wanted it to begin in a week; two weeks was the compromise.

Under a new law, the committee can suspend an indicted mayor for up to a year, after which the suspension can be extended. During the first six months, the mayor receives half his salary, then 70 percent. If he is acquitted he receives the withheld money.

The committee was established after the Knesset approved a bill on suspending wayward mayors in December.

Lahiani had been indicted at the beginning of October, before the municipal elections at the end of that month, in which he was reelected. The High Court of Justice removed Lahiani from his post just days before the elections, but following the precedent of Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso and Ramat Hasharon Mayor Yitzhak Rochberger, the court let Lahiani run for reelection.

The justices said that even though they were uncomfortable with Lahiani running, they could not prevent him from doing so.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has also asked the committee to suspend Gapso, who was also reelected in October despite a High Court suspension. Gapso was indicted in June on bribery charges.

At the beginning of the week, more than three months after the election, Lahiani managed to establish a coalition by bringing Likud in; in return, Likud’s Bat Yam chief becomes Lahiani’s deputy.

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, and for not reporting the income. He is also charged with accepting bribes worth NIS 900,000 and with failing to disclose NIS 8 million in income.

At the heart of the case is the suspicion that Lahiani accepted bribes from Ezra Dosh, the owner of a Bat Yam supermarket chain. In 2005 Lahiani and his brother Avi allegedly asked Dosh for a NIS 200,000, interest-free loan.

Dosh reportedly gave the check to Avi, who deposited it in his personal bank account and transferred the money to a company owned by Shlomo. Allegedly, the money was not repaid in full and Dosh received patronage from Avi.

Shlomo Lahiani is also charged with accepting a bribe from Bat Yam cafe and restaurant owners, Avner Krieff and his brother-in-law Ovad Dodtachi. In this case too, Lahiani allegedly requested a loan worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.

In a third affair, Lahiani is charged with fraud and breach of trust for allegedly instructing municipality employees to take out bank loans worth NIS 440,000, money that helped Lahiani pay his bank debts.

Allegedly, Lahiani allies, some of them campaign heads whom he later appointed to top municipality positions, each lent NIS 50,000 to Lahiani’s construction company in 2005. The loans were repaid monthly with cash deposits of NIS 1,000.

Another case concerns Lahiani’s 45 percent stake in local newspaper Gal Gefen Tzahov. Under Lahiani’s mayorship, the paper has allegedly received payments from the municipality for ads worth hundreds of thousands of shekels.

According to the indictment, Lahiani did not report his stake in the newspaper, and after the government made inquiries, Lahiani carried out a fictive transfer of his shares and made a false declaration.

Shlomo Lahiani. Suspected of fraud, breach of trust and lots more.Credit: Moti Milrod

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