Despite Bribery Indictment, Israeli Mayor to Seek Reelection

Claiming he is target of smear campaign, Bat Yam mayor says voting public will judge if there is basis for accusations.

Bay Yam mayor, Shlomo Lahiani was indicted Tuesday on charges of receiving bribes, fraud and breach of trust. Following his indictment, Lahiani called a press conference where he confirmed that he plans to seek reelection in three weeks.

The indictment submitted to the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court charges Lahiani with accepting bribes in the amount of NIS 900,000 and failing to disclose NIS 8 million in income, as well as fraud and breach of trust.

"In my darkest nightmare I wouldn't have believed that this month, as I'm completing a decade of public activity, my reputation would be smeared by an indictment which lacks any judicial or factual substance," Lahiani said. "This moment is particularly difficult due to the position of the High Court of Justice, which I so respect." Lahiani was referring to the High Court of Justice's ruling that indicted mayors must resign.

Appealing to Bat Yam residents, Lahiani said, "I declared on the day I was arrested that I was completely innocent, and I will prove my innocence even if takes a day, a month or a year. I call on all Bat Yam residents to read the indictment and tell me if they believe it. If I forsake the city I won't be able to look the residents in the eye. Bat Yam residents are the ones to decide what will happen in their city, they are the ones to decide if anyone breached their trust. These elections are a huge test."

Referring to the timing of the indictment, three weeks before the municipal elections, Lahiani said: "I'm pleased that the indictment was submitted before the election. I intend to stand for reelection."

Lahiani will likely step down in the next few days.

At the heart of the charges is the suspicion that Lahiani accepted bribery from Ezra Dosh, the owner of a successful chain of supermarkets in Bat Yam called Super-Dosh. In 2005 Lahiani and his brother, Avi Lahiani, allegedly approached Dosh during his son’s bar mitzvah and asked him for a NIS 200,000 loan. Dosh gave the check to the mayor’s brother, who deposited it into his personal bank account and then transferred the money to the Elshav company owned by Shlomo Lahiani.

The loan was given without interest and unlinked. It was not repaid in full and in return it is suspected that Dosh received aid in his business from Lahiani’s brother, Avi.

Lahiani will also be charged with accepting a bribe from Avner Krieff and his brother-in-law Ovad Dodtachi, the owners of the local branch of Cup 'O' Joe and the Gargirim restaurant, both located on the city's promenade, and other interests in Bat Yam. In this case too, evidence has been found that Lahiani and his brother approached Krieff and Dodtachi with a request for a loan of hundreds of thousands of shekels.

In the third affair, Lahiani is charged with counts of fraud and breach of trust after having instructed municipality employees to take out bank loans amounting to NIS 440,000, money that was transferred to him for the payment of his debts to banks. The investigation found that a number of Lahiani’s cronies at the municipality, some of them activists in his campaign headquarters whom he later appointed to senior positions, loaned NIS 50,000 each to the mayor’s construction company in 2005. The loans were repaid monthly with cash deposits of NIS 1,000 into the lenders’ accounts.

Another charge against Lahiani concerns the local newspaper Gal Gefen Tzahov, in which evidence was found for indicting Lahiani for entering into a prohibited contractual agreement, perjury and breach of trust. The affair has to do with Lahiani’s 45 percent share in Gal Gefen Tzahov, which since he became mayor received regular payments from the Bat Yam municipality, for ads worth hundreds of thousands of shekels over the years. Lahiani did not report his stake in the newspaper. After government supervisors inquired about his holdings in the paper, Lahiani carried out a fictive transfer of his shares and made a false declaration under the Local Authorities Law.

Lahiani's attorney, Kenneth Mann responded to the indictment: "We're convinced that we can handle the affair in court. These are issues that cannot be settled in a hearing but in court. We will study the indictment and respond in time."

Moti Milrod