Israel's Organized Crime Gangs Trying to Buy Mayors, Police Say

Criminal investigations, both open and undercover, under way against top local officials

Crime organizations are attempting to make inroads into local government two months before municipal elections, the deputy chief of the police national fraud squad said yesterday.

According to Commander Eran Kamin: “There are crime organizations that the police know of that are suspected of creating ties with mayors so as to take over or take the local authority’s resources.” Kamin cited in particular the extensive real estate, tenders and funds that municipalities control. “Organized crime is trying to penetrate anywhere there are mayors, to take advantage of them for their own benefit.“

Kamin also said both open and undercover investigations were now underway against the heads of local authorities.

Speaking at a conference of the Tel Aviv district Bar Association, Kamin said it was very difficult for the police and prosecution to decide to launch an investigation of a mayor, particularly just before elections, noting that it is hard to ensure that their evidence is solid. “We look for officials with vested interests; the opposition frequently leads [in providing] information against a mayor and the evidence is not always well founded.” It often leads nowhere, he noted.

State Prosecutor Moshe Lador addressed the dilemma of timing in prosecuting such cases. “We have moved investigations ahead, we have moved ahead the process of deciding to summon [an official] for a hearing. The hearing sometimes takes several months, and so we reach a date close to the election. Should we stop the process because of upcoming elections? If we stopped the process, we would be interfering in the results of the election,” he said.

Lador spoke specifically about the bribery investigation of Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani, who had tried to postpone his hearing until after the holidays, even petitioning the High Court of Justice, which turned him down. “The decision to delay a hearing means interfering in the election. These processes do not begin on election eve. We submit indictments the moment there is justification to do so, including against mayors and public officials,” Lador said.

Lahiani’s hearing has been set for September 3, about six weeks before the election, and it is therefore unlikely that the prosecution will decide before the election whether to indict him or not.

Lador conceded that investigations are sometimes sparked by political adversaries of the individual involved, but said: “That in itself is not a reason not to investigate. When we come close to a time when an election campaign is in the offing, we are even more careful before we authorize the start of an investigation.” Lador pointed out that both advancing and freezing an investigation can be considered interference in the political process: “In either case someone can claim against us down the road that we served the indictment only after the election.”

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira discussed corruption on the municipal level, which is an issue he said he would be focusing on during his term in office. The main problem in local government, was not campaign contributions, which are relatively small sums, regulated and transparent, he noted. The question of whether a contributor had subsequently received a business license or other benefit could also be easily checked, he said.

Shapira said that if a candidate for mayor is indicted during an election campaign, “the public must judge him.”

AP
Olivier Fitoussi
Shiran Granot