Ramat Gan Mayor Israel Singer and Nimrod Nir, the son of prominent businesswoman Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes, have been arrested as part of a lengthy and extensive investigation into corruption within the municipality.
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Singer and Nir – who runs a consulting firm – are suspected of taking bribes, fraud, breach of trust and other offenses.
Several other municipal employees also being questioned by the national fraud squad are suspected of exploiting their positions and promising jobs and municipal contracts in return for supporting Singer in the October 2013 local elections.
Among them is Yossi Mizrahi, head of the municipal engineering department, and city employees Eli Tzemah, Yaakov Saban and Ariel Lempel. They are suspected of bribery, fraud, breach of trust, money laundering and tax fraud.
Ramat Gan is a large municipality in central Israel, adjoining Tel Aviv.
Singer, the respected former principal of the city’s Blich High School, had run on a platform promising clean government, proper administration and transparency. His message was seen as particularly attractive because former Mayor Zvi Bar had left office after 25 years following an indictment for bribery and money laundering.
Nir is suspected of promoting Singer’s candidacy in exchange for a commitment that his firm would handle the city’s large cultural events and the city’s public relations. Several other businessmen are expected to be arrested on suspicion of receiving benefits in return for supporting Singer.
Both Singer and Nir were confined to house arrest for seven days by Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court, with Singer ordered to stay away from city hall for 15 days.
Police conducted a raid on city hall offices and the homes of the suspects yesterday, confiscating documents and computers.
The arrests follow a year-long undercover investigation that was conducted in cooperation with the Israel Police’s Yahalom unit, which handles financial crimes, and the VAT-investigation division of the Israel Tax Authority.
The investigation helped prevent criminal elements from gaining positions in the municipality with the help of these same employees. It also revealed problems in the city’s construction and inspection administration, where department officials are suspected of approving enhanced building permits in exchange for bribes. One building contractor has been arrested on suspicion of offering bribes.
Despite Singer’s promise of clean government, within months there were rumors – even among his supporters – that in fact there had been no change in the way the city did business. Former Likud MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen, who Singer defeated in the mayoral race, became the center of a growing opposition, which came to include other city councilors and groups of local residents.
Given this atmosphere, many believed a criminal investigation was only a matter of time. The investigation was actually spurred by a complaint filed by Shama-Hacohen, who gave information to police several times about suspected corruption.
Shama-Hacohen left Ramat Gan last summer when he was appointed Israel’s ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), but the investigation continued. There were plenty of others offering testimonies to the police, sometimes backed by documents and recordings.
One particularly prominent case was the appointment, six months ago, of local teacher Simona Grushka to head the municipality’s culture department. Shama-Hacohen filed suit in the labor court demanding that the appointment be canceled, arguing that Grushka did not have the qualifications for the post and had been awarded it solely because of her friendship with Singer.
Grushka was not the only instance. Haaretz has information on a number of appointments of political activists and alleged cronies of the mayor to municipal positions. Some are filling positions that never existed until Singer was elected. Others were chosen by tender, but many of these tenders stipulate such specific criteria that in many cases one could tell who was likely to be chosen.
There were also allegations of diverting funds to associates by choosing them as service providers, or employing them as advisers to the city or subsidiary companies such as Beit Emanuel Enterprises – a public-benefit corporation engaged in culture and education.
One instance of alleged improper appointments led to the resignation of City Councilor Liad Ilani as chairman of the Ramat Gan National Park and his leaving the coalition four months ago. Ilani suggested five candidates for the position of park deputy director, all of whom had relevant experience and abilities. Singer, however, instructed him to appoint Yaron Shmueli, who had been the director of Singer’s field staff. Ilani refused and resigned. The park’s board approved Shmueli’s appointment.
“Singer came with a great promise of cleaning up corruption,” Ilani told Haaretz. “Since then, what he’s doing is maintaining the previous method. Sometimes he’s even making things worse.
“People supported him because of his image as the legendary principal at Blich,” continued Ilani, before addressing Singer directly: “You preached against Bar – how can you do things in such a brazen manner?”