Bribery Charges Dropped Against Bat Yam Mayor in Plea Bargain

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Convicted Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, May 8, 2014. Credit: Moti Milrod

Suspended Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani was convicted Thursday on three counts of breach of trust but evaded bribery charges in a plea bargain.

The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court will later rule whether Lahiani’s offenses amount to moral turpitude, which would bar him from public office for seven years. Under the plea deal, in which Lahiani admitted he did wrong, the prosecution may seek a prison sentence of up to one year.

“Throughout my life I have set an example and have been a role model for the people around me. It’s important for me to continue this, so I decided to take responsibility for things I did by mistake 10 years ago when I was starting out as a public figure,” Lahiani said.

“All my life I’ve had two cast-iron principles. One is purity and transparency in administrative procedures. The other is the uncompromising view that public funds are sacred and must be handled with great respect.”

Lahiani said no one else involved was responsible, adding that his family was now released from five years of suffering.

After being indicted in October, Lahiani denied the charges against him. At a news conference ahead of local elections, he said: “I said I was clean as the driven snow, and if it takes a day, a month or a year I’ll prove my innocence …. If I bail I won’t be able to look Bat Yam’s residents in the eye. They will decide who betrayed their trust. These elections are a major test.”

Lahiani told Haaretz in 2010 that “everything will blow up in the police’s face.” He said the “chance of an indictment is zero. I am honest. It’s a matter of character. Meet my father, you’ll understand everything … that’s how I was raised …. In all my years as mayor I never went abroad at the city’s expense. In my view, anyone who touches public funds — his hand must be cut off, like in Saudi Arabia.”

But on Thursday Lahiani admitted to taking 700,000 shekels ($203,000) from the two owners of the Cup 'O' Joe cafe on the Bat Yam promenade and a restaurant in the coastal city. He used the money to pay Bank Hapoalim for debts owed by his construction company, Alshav.

The two owners opened Cup 'O' Joe in a property belonging to Alshav. Lahiani admitted that his brother Avi asked the two owners for the loan on his behalf. By the time the investigation began, he had paid back only 300,000 shekels of the loan.

Over the years Cup 'O' Joe received irregular building permits from the city’s construction commission, which raised the property’s value. At first Lahiani was charged with bribery, but the charge was changed to breach of trust “due to the conflict of interests between his duties as mayor and his interests as a private businessman who preferred his private affairs.”

The breach of trust charge also stemmed from Lahiani’s receiving money from Ezra Dosh, the owner of the Super Dosh supermarket chain in Bat Yam. The chain supplied the municipality with food products, and Lahiani’s father Meir got a job at the new Super Dosh branch in the Bat Yam mall.

Super Dosh applied for a business license for the new branch when Lahiani served as head of the local business licensing committee. At the time, Lahiani asked Dosh for a 200,000-shekel loan, which he used to pay Alshav’s debts to Union Bank of Israel. Lahiani received the money without a loan agreement and without specifying an interest rate.

By the time the investigation started, Lahiani had paid 135,000 of the 200,000 shekels back to Dosh. Lahiani approved several of Super Dosh’s applications to the licensing authority without disclosing that he had received money from Dosh.

The third breach-of-trust charge referred to Lahiani’s request that nine municipal employees take out loans of 440,000 shekels from various banks and transfer the money to him to repay personal debts. Among those who gave him money were the city treasurer, the mayor’s bureau chief and the city’s CEO.

The indictment said Lahiani knew that these employees “would have difficulty refusing, as they depended on him … for their promotion and position in the municipal hierarchy .... In these circumstances, asking the municipal staff to take out the loans put them in an awkward and difficult position.”

On Thursday, prosecutor Sharon Kahana said Lahiani’s conviction was “part of the law enforcement authorities’ continuing struggle against government corruption. It’s very important that Lahiani confessed his offenses in court, contrary to his previous statements.”

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