Israeli Mayors Under Suspicion for Corruption Face the Slow Arm of the Law

Bat Yam Mayor Shlomi Lahiani and at least six other senior municipal officials have indictments stuck at various stages of investigation.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

In December 2009, Bat Yam Mayor Shlomi Lahiani was arrested on suspicion of using the municipal machine to enrich himself, his family and his close associates. He was investigated for almost two years and last September, the police recommended to the State Prosecutor's Office that he be indicted. But Lahiani is still active. He recently considered running for chairman of Kadima and will soon appear on a Channel 2 dance competition.

And Lahiani is not alone. At least six other senior municipal officials - detailed below - are still in office, some for as long as four and a half years, with indictments stuck at various stages of investigation.

Shlomo LahianiCredit: Yanai Yehiel

The State Prosecutor's Office says corruption cases are very complicated and its prosecutors are working as fast as they can.

Lahiani's case is currently with the SPO's white collar crime investigators. The prosecutor in charge, Noam Uzieli, has quit, and no replacement has been appointed. The State Prosecutor's Office declined to say why Uzieli had quit. They would only say that the evidence is being gathered and scrutinized, and a decision would be made fairly soon.

In an interview in 2010, Lahiani said: "The chance there will be an indictment here is nil."

In November 2007, the police recommended indicting Ramat Hasharon Mayor Yitzhak Rochberger for allegedly signing fictitious invoices, and further charges were recommended in August 2008. Meanwhile, Rochberger was reelected as mayor. "The file they have today is BS," he said on Saturday. The prosecution responded: "The decision in this case is based on the evidence collected up until very recently, and is to be made soon."

Hadera Mayor Haim Avitan is suspected of appointing an associate, Yefim Roizman, as head of a waste treatment plant. In September 2006, the investigation revealed that Avitan, who was then chairman of the city's tenders committee, had not reported his 5-percent share in a company for predicting earthquakes, owned by Roizman. In 2007, the State Comptroller found a possible conflict of interest in the appointment.

The State Prosecutor's Office said the Haifa district prosecution returned the file to the police, apparently because of an investigation of Avitan on other charges.

In April 2010, the prosecution also announced its intention to file charges against Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar, but has yet to do so. Bar is suspected of four cases of bribe-taking from real estate developers, amounting to more than NIS 2 million. One of the developers, Emanuel Arbib, has already been indicted for offering bribes.

The prosecution said "objective constraints" accounted for the delay but a decision would be made in a few weeks.

Petah Tikva Mayor Yitzhak Ohayon, whom the national fraud squad recommended be indicted in March 2011, is suspected of taking money and benefits from people involved in real estate development deals and others, including contributions to his mayoral campaign in 2008. The central district prosecutor's office said evidence had been collected over the past year and a decision would be made soon.

Also in March 2011, the police recommended indicting Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gaspo for bribe-taking and other charges involving the operation of an open-air food market in the city. The northern district prosecutor's office said the case was "manifold, complex and extensive," and that it was giving the case high priority.

Gaspo responded: "I have no intention of jumping off the roof. I have no doubt the case will be closed."

Former Givat Zeev Mayor Shaul Mizrahi, who was arrested in November 2009 on suspicion of tailoring tenders, now heads the Union of Local Authorities' Local Government Economic Services. The State Prosecutor's Office said the case involved numerous suspects and that a decision would be forthcoming in the near future.

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