Prosecutor to Charge Ashkelon Mayor With Bribery; Rape Charges Dropped

Itamar Shimoni is suspected of using unlawful means to collect the money he agreed to provide to two women he had allegedly sexually assaulted as a pay-off.

Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni in court on Tuesday.
Motti Milrod

Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni is to be charged with bribery, pending a hearing at which he’ll be given a chance to explain himself.

Shimoni was arrested in January on suspicion of rape and accepting bribes, but the allegations of sexual offenses against subordinates were dropped for lack of evidence. Charges may also be filed against Shimoni’s brother, Ofer, and against others suspected of bribery, fraud, breach of trust, tax evasion and money laundering.

Shimoni is suspected of signing an agreement with two women who claimed he had sexually assaulted them to pay them hush money of a million shekels ($262,467). The women were his subordinates when he was CEO of the Atarim company. Shimoni then allegedly asked his associates to help him come up with the money, and they, supposedly with his knowledge, solicited money from businessmen and contractors in Ashkelon in return for which Shimoni promised to advance their business interests.

According to the prosecution, the money was obtained through fictitious loans, a real estate agency allegedly set up as a front by Ofer Shimoni that transferred 366,000 shekels to the mayor, as well as direct payments of some 170,000 shekels by businessmen. One suspect allegedly collected several hundred thousand shekels more from unknown sources.

Another allegation that may be included in the indictment relates to an associate of Shimoni’s who tried to buy local media outlets in Ashkelon so that they would give favorable coverage to Shimoni and the municipality.

The police believe there is sufficient evidence of two cases of consensual sexual relations that were forbidden by law, bribery, breach of trust, obstructing an investigation and money laundering. The prosecution, however, only plans to charge Shimoni with bribery.

Police also believe they have enough evidence to charge six additional people – city manager Haim Sofer, two of Shimoni's personal associates, two contractors and a developer – but they are not being summoned before the prosecution yet.

The suspects up for a hearing will appear before the Tel Aviv District attorney for tax and finance, Liat Ben Ari Sheweky, before a decision is made on whether to file charges. The final decision on an indictment will be made by State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan.