Upper Nazareth Mayor Gapso and Deputy Convicted of Taking Bribes

Case alleged that a city-council member was pressured to resign or his ex-wife would lose her job.

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In Haifa District Court, Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso was convicted of taking bribes. The case alleged that a city-council member was told to quit or his ex-wife would lose her job.Credit: Rami Shlush

Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso and his deputy, Adi Berko, on Thursday were convicted of taking bribes.

Gapso has been suspended since March last year.

In the Haifa District Court case, prosecutors charged that Gapso and Berko in 2008 conditioned a woman’s continued employment on the resignation of her ex-husband from the municipal council. The woman worked in a country club operated by the city’s economic corporation.

In forming the municipal coalition, Councilor Semion Baron was asked by go-betweens to join Gapso and Berko’s coalition. Baron was told that unless he did so, his ex-wife, Dora Bern, would be fired.

Baron refused the offer and his ex-wife was summoned to a pre-dismissal hearing.

When Baron heard of this, he told Gapso and Berko he had changed his mind and would join the coalition. He was told his ex-wife would not be fired only if he resigned from the municipal council. Baron refused to resign and his ex-wife was fired.

The indictment viewed the demand that Baron resign as tantamount to taking bribery. Gapso was suspended following a High Court ruling due to the indictment. A few days later he was reelected mayor.

Judge Oded Gershon criticized the prosecution for several inaccuracies in the charge sheet “and even explicit or implied statements that, after the evidence was heard, turned out to be incorrect.”

The judge also blasted the prosecution for taking a long time to serve the indictment.

Gapso said he would try to be mayor again. “I walked in a minefield and sometimes you step on a mine,” he said after his conviction.

“I’m not sorry for what I did," he added. "This was not the hardest battle I've fought, I promise everyone I've fought way harder battles – this was perhaps the longest, most tiring one If the sentence is not marked with turpitude and enables me to resume my position that very day, that’s what I’ll do.”

Gapso’s attorney, Pninat Yanai, said the verdict states that Gapso’s knowledge of his deputy’s acts behind his back, although he had no part in them, “establishes the offense. With respect, this is not in keeping with criminal law or with the evidence in the case.”

After Gapso was indicted, the High Court of Justice ordered him dismissed but allowed him to run for elections.

Gapso won the election by a large majority. But in March, at the request of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, he was suspended for four months. The suspension was periodically extended.

Two other mayors whom the High Court ousted from office in 2013 - Yitzhak Rochberger of Ramat Hasharon and Shlomi Lahiani of Bat Yam - have also been convicted. They were also dismissed just before the local elections due to the indictments against them, and then were reelected.