Convicted Bat Yam Mayor Banned From Politics for 7 Years

Shlomo Lahiani, convicted of breach of trust, was deemed guilty of moral turpitude; if he doesn't appeal, elections will be held in 2 months.

Motti Milrod

The convicted mayor of Bat Yam will not be able to return to public office for seven years, after a Tel Aviv court ruled that his offenses constituted moral turpitude.

The Tel Aviv Magistrates Court on Tuesday ruled that Shlomo Lahiani, the suspended mayor of Bat Yam, will receive a six-month sentence, which will be converted to community service, as well as a six-month suspended sentence and a 250,000-shekel ($67,840) fine.

Lahiani pleaded guilty in May to breach of trust, in return for which the state dropped charges of bribery and corruption against him. He admitted to taking 700,000 shekels from the two owners of the Cup O Joe café on the Bat Yam promenade and the restaurant in the coastal city, south of Tel Aviv. He used the money to pay off debts owed by his construction company, Alshav.

If Lahiani does not appeal the ruling within 45 days, Bay Yam will hold new mayoral elections within two months.

In my view, there was a gross and grave exploitation of power in the name of serving personal interests, said Judge Benny Saguy when handing down the verdict.

Saguy explained that in making the ruling, he took into account the fact that Lahiani had taken responsibility for his actions, that he had made a significant contribution to society during his term as mayor, and that he suffered a violation of basic rights when he was arrested in front of television cameras. Saguy also took into consideration the fact that the offenses had been committed many years ago, and that Lahiani was being barred from the public domain.

The judge then addressed a question posed during the trial by the prosecutor, who had asked what sort of message the court would try to convey to a child who has a connection to the mayor.

The metaphorical child should get a balanced message that says that there is a substantial public and punitive price for committing offenses, but that the good deeds a man does during his lifetime are not rejected out of hand purely for the benefit of sending a message of deterrence to the general public," Saguy explained in his ruling.

Good deeds are instructive about the character of a person and even if the person failed one day, one should see these good deeds as a legitimate factor when weighing the punishment, he added.

The judge sharply criticized the polices handling of Lahianis arrest and said the arguments of the defendants lawyers were relevant to the case.

Arresting a person, any person, is complex and humiliating, he said, particularly when a public figure without a criminal past is involved. The police must be precise about these rights.

The Channel 2 television station had received a tip about Lahianis imminent arrest in December 2009, and filmed officers apprehending the surprised-looking mayor during the early morning operation.

In the judges opinion, the public interest can also be satisfied after the fact. It is hard for me to grasp why the police acted as it did. The failure is one of discipline. Lahianis rights were violated without justification.

At the time of his arrest, Lahiani said the police had treated him flawlessly.