Hadera Mayor Zvi Gendelman was arrested Monday on suspicion of electoral bribery, fraud, forgery and other offenses.
Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court ordered him held without bail for seven days.
Three other people, including a leading local businessman close to Gendelman, were arrested on suspicion of abusing their positions to advance other people’s interests.
Gendelman’s wife was detained for questioning but released. Police also searched the suspects’ homes and offices on Monday.
Police suspect that, among other things, Gendelman promoted construction of a rehabilitation hospital in Givat Olga – over residents’ objections – in exchange for electoral support from the businessman whose company was slated to build the hospital.
The businessman, who formerly served as a senior municipal official, was convicted in 2011 on charges of fraud, breach of trust, attempted assault, and consensual but illegal sexual relations.
An associate of Gendelman’s described him as “straight as a ruler” and said it was inconceivable he did anything wrong. “He’s simply not the type,” he added.
Gendelman, who was elected five years ago as a candidate for the Yesh Atid party, asked the court not to issue a gag order on his name. His lawyer, Lior Epstein, said in a statement that, as a public figure, Gendelman believes he is obligated to be transparent.
The statement added that the police are obliged to investigate, since “nobody is above the law.” Nevertheless, it questioned Gendelman’s “automatic” arrest, saying this doesn’t necessarily serve the public that elected him to run the city.
The Hadera municipality said it is cooperating with the police but has no idea what the investigation is about. It added that the city continues to function as usual. Yesh Atid said its party policy is that any public figure under criminal investigation must suspend himself immediately.
Gendelman is not the first Hadera mayor to be subject to criminal proceedings. His predecessor, Haim Avitan, was investigated on suspicion of bribery, fraud and money laundering, though the case against him was closed in 2015. Avitan’s predecessor, Yisrael Sadan, was convicted of giving bribes and served four and a half months in jail.
New municipal elections are slated to take place this fall. Because of its potential impact on the vote, arresting a mayor shortly before an election requires approval from both the head of the police’s investigations and intelligence department and the state prosecutor. Those approvals were duly obtained.
Chaim Levinson contributed reporting for this story.