New interior minister Gideon Sa’ar has 30 days to notify the High Court of Justice of his position in the case against Ramat Gan mayor Zvi Bar who has been accused of bribery, fraud, breach of trust, money laundering and obstructing justice. As interior minister, Sa'ar has the authority to dismiss a mayor under certain circumstances. Following Bar's indictment and the Ramat Gan city council's decision not to dismiss him, the presiding judges said Sa'ar must weigh in and that the 30-day deadline must be met.
Sa'ar is updated on the proceedings, said the state’s representative, attorney Michal Michlin-Friedlander, but the state’s position is that it would be better for the interior minister to establish a committee to examine the issue. Michlin-Friedlander noted, however, that a city council ordinance prohibits the interior minister from appointing a mayor or committee during an election year.
“He will not appoint one,” said Judge Edna Arbel in response to the claim, “but it is not written that he cannot examine a situation like the one we are in today. The entire matter must be brought before the minister for his decision. It is within his authority.”
The petition to remove Bar from his position was submitted two years ago by Avi Lilian, a member of Ramat Gan’s municipal council. Attorney Ofer Lerinman, who is representing Lilian, said in today’s hearing that the court must order Bar to resign.
A large entourage, including members of the city council, the deputy mayor and employees of the spokesperson’s office came to support Bar in court.
“Everything was very dignified,” Bar said upon leaving the courtroom. “I trust the decision and accept it. This is a place of dignity. The hearings were reasonable and respectable.” When asked whether he would run for another term as mayor, Bar said it depended on the court’s decision.
By law, Bar does not have to resign. A city ordinance stipulates that a local authority may be removed from his position only if a court has convicted him of a crime involving moral turpitude. Bar’s defense attorney, Navot Tel-Zur, said that the court’s decision was appropriate.
“In light of the brief time remaining and the fact that the municipality is running extremely well, there is no rush to conduct a hearing," said attorney Ilan Bombach, who represents the Ramat Gan municipality in the appeal. "The situation is not bad. There’s no need to appoint a special commission. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”
The parties will submit statements to the interior minister prior to his opinion. Bombach says he will tell the interior minister that, “in this case, there is no need to use such draconian authority to remove an incumbent mayor from his position.”
Meanwhile, with local elections scheduled for October 22, Ramat Gan's mayoral race is warming up. So far, former MKs Carmel Shama Hacohen and David Mena have declared their candidacy, as have city council members Yisrael Singer and Avi Lilian, who submitted the petition against Bar. In addition, journalist Nissim Mishal is considering a run and is holding a series of exploratory meetings. He is expected to run only if Bar does not.
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