The mayor of the northern town of Afula and several other municipal officials were detained for questioning on Wednesday on suspicion of involvement in bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
After a number of hours of police questioning and a hearing at the Haifa Magistrate's Court, Mayor Avi Elkabetz was released. But he had to agree to stay away from Afula for 30 days and refrain from contact with the other suspects in the case.
"The police didn't even ask for house arrest, which speaks for itself," the mayor's lawyer, Oded Gazit, said. "We are hoping that the investigation will be quick and intensive, and believe that it will end with nothing whatsoever."
Prior to the questioning of Elkabetz and other municipal officials, police raided Afula city hall and removed documents from offices there. Police sources said the raid and Wednesday's interrogations were preceded by an undercover investigation. Sources at city hall said the municipality was cooperating with the police and that the documents the authorities had sought were provided to them.
The Channel 10 program "Hamakor" aired a report about a month ago about allegations of corruption at the Afula municipality. The broadcast included a recording of an Afula contractor who spoke about a bribe given to Mayor Elkabetz. It also mentioned other allegations about the decision-making process of the local planning and building committee, which is in charge of approving new construction. The allegedly questionable conduct went back to when Elkabetz's predecessor was in office.
Elkabetz, 48, has been at the helm at Afula city hall since 2005, before which he was the municipality's director general. At Wednesday's court hearing in Haifa, suspicions were raised that Elkabetz received improper favors as mayor and as director general. Although he is a member of the Kadima party, Elkabetz ran for mayor on an independent party ticket.
"This is a tough day for the city of Afula and its residents," said Likud party city councilman Reuven Yokler. "We hope the suspicions are dispelled and it turns out this was a bad dream. Nevertheless, I am convinced the institutions of the law will act quickly and with determination to lift the cloud on Afula and clear the name of its mayor."
One of the mayor's local opponents, Sisai Ben Pessah, who is associated with a group called The Action Committee to Save Afula, called for the mayor to take an immediate leave of office.