The law enforcement authorities’ firm approach and determination to expose public corruption in local government paid off on Thursday, with the conviction of Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani in a plea bargain.
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The man who claimed to be a paragon of virtue, who accused law enforcement of harassing him and who danced with the stars to buttress his popularity, Thursday did a pirouette on the way to bowing out.
Lahiani pleaded guilty to reduced charges of three counts of breach of trust. Bribery charges were dropped, but the majority of the offenses remained on the indictment. The charges were serious: misappropriation of public funds and abuse of his authority as mayor.
Although the word “bribery” no longer appears in the indictment, the stench of this grave offense continues to rise from the facts. In this sense, the plea bargain is an achievement for the prosecution. The web of illicit quid pro quo of which Lahiani was convicted is closer to bribery than to breach of trust.
The prosecution’s willingness to agree to lesser charges should not mislead the public into minimizing the seriousness of the corruption at the heart of this affair. Lahiani will find it difficult to persuade the court that the acts he confessed to are trivial.
A successful tactic
In Lahiani’s case the prosecution used a tactic that proved successful in a number of previous corruption cases, agreeing to a plea bargain in which the final charges remained serious nevertheless.
For example, former Tax Authority head Jacky Matza admitted in a plea bargain to four counts of breach of trust and to being an accessory to bribery. Because he opened the tax agency’s door to machers, he was sentenced to a one-year prison term.
Prosecutors took the same approach in charging former Bank Hapoalim chairman Danny Dankner of breach of trust in connection to the acquisition of a Turkish bank.
Dankner’s attorneys succeeded in having the word “fraud” expunged from the revised indictment, but the Tel Aviv District Court could not ignore the seriousness of the offenses and it convicted him.
District Court Judge Zvi Gurfinkel’s verdict in Dankner’s trial is extremely important for Lahiani.
Gurfinkel set a sentencing range of between six and 18 months in prison for breach of trust, and he sentenced Dankner to one year in prison.
Lahiani should therefore be pleased in this regard. Prosecutors in his case agreed to request a maximum one-year prison sentence under the plea bargain, exactly in the middle of the sentencing range.
The judge in Dankner’s trial said the defendant’s having been the head of a corporate pyramid was an important factor for consideration in the sentencing phase.
Since Lahiani retracted his denial and took responsibility for his acts at the beginning of the trial, the year’s sentence the prosecution will request is within reasonable range and seems a plausible risk for Lahiani to take. A fair deal all round.
A conviction of an offense involving moral turpitude accompanied by a prison term will bar Lahiani from a return to politics for seven years. For a politician, Lahiani is still young. He can plan his comeback in the long term, while applying the lessons of his experience.
His conviction follows other prosecutory successes, such as securing guilty verdicts for former Jerusalem mayors Ehud Olmert and Uri Lupoliansky in the Holyland affair. They will deter other mayors who may be tempted to cross the line.