Israeli Mayor Admits Storing Stash of Cash in Attic, Police Transcripts Reveal

Justices to hear petition on whether Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar can be removed from office.

Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar admitted to police investigators in January that he maintained a stash of cash in his attic. This was the 16th time Bar had been questioned by investigators but, according to police transcripts, he was only revealing the existence of the cash then because he had been embarrassed about it previously.

The contents of the transcript are being reported here for the first time.

Bar, who is running for his sixth term as mayor in October’s municipal election, is currently facing charges that include taking bribes, money laundering, fraud, breach of trust and obstruction of justice. Although he denies the charges, the mayor is accused of receiving bribes from real estate developers doing business in Ramat Gan.

The details of the transcript were revealed just as rge High Court of Justice was holding a hearing Sunday on a petition filed by Ramat Gan city councillor Avi Lilian, who is seeking to have Bar removed from office due to the allegations. A decision on the matter prior to nationwide municipal elections could also affect reelection bids by other mayors facing criminal indictment, including Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani, Tiberias Mayor Zohar Oved, Ramat Hasharon Mayor Yitzhak Rochberger and Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso. Bar counters that the law provides for dismissal of mayors only after conviction of a crime, and only if it involves moral turpitude.

Haaretz has learned that during his interrogation by police in January, Bar was told that Emanuel Arbib − an Italian businessman living in London who was involved in two major real estate developments in Ramat Gan − had turned state’s witness. According to police records, Arbib stated that Bar had taken about NIS 1 million in bribes from him and others. According to the police transcript, the mayor also admitted that cash in his possession had not been declared to government authorities, adding that he had received funds from defense-related businesses abroad that he was not at liberty to detail.

Police allege that Bar met with Arbib in 2005. Arbib was interested in buying Beit Lir-Or, a building that was then in receivership and now houses the Ramat Gan College.

According to the transcript, Bar asked the London-based businessman if he was in the lending business, saying he was interested in taking out a loan in London. Arbib reportedly replied that he was not in the business of lending money but could help him out, ultimately arranging a loan from a London-based company.

Later that year, Arbib and a partner acquired Beit Lir-Or for NIS 18 million, a lower price than it was thought to be worth. According to the indictment against Bar, the mayor worked to facilitate the sale of the building to a company in which Arbib had an interest, and to arrange for zoning variances after the project had been stalled for years. The loan to Bar was finalized a month after the purchase of the Ramat Gan building was completed.

According to Arbib, one of the conditions of the sale of the building was that $250,000 − which was deemed a commission − would be paid in cash to the receiver, Motti Gluska, beyond the borders of Israel. Gluska was also a close associate of Bar’s and served as his lawyer, and trustee of the mayor’s financial affairs. The prosecution in the case against Bar contends the funds were a bribe to the mayor disguised as a loan from London, and were transferred to a bank account of a Monaco-based firm controlled by Arbib.

Under police questioning, however, Bar insisted he was not aware of any commission to be paid to Gluska, explaining that Gluska had complete control of Bar’s money.

The mayor also said he could not recall the alleged meeting with Arbib in 2005. With regard to the loan in London, Bar said that when he needed a loan he contacted Gluska and suggested he contact Arbib about possible funding sources as quickly as possible. Bar insisted, according to the police transcript, however, that he did not ask Arbib for a loan. “I don’t owe anyone a shekel. I didn’t take a bribe from Arbib, not one shekel,” he reportedly said.

Ofer Vaknin