Israeli Mayor Charged With Bribery, Another Arrested Over Corruption Allegations

Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni allegedly solicited funds to pay off two women who claimed he sexually assaulted them; Safed Mayor Ilan Shohat is suspected of theft, taking bribes, fraud and obstruction of justice.

Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni.
Moti Milrod

Safed Mayor Ilan Shohat and city officials were arrested on Tuesday and questioned by police in connection with a number of corruption allegations, including theft by an elected official, taking bribes, suborning a witness, giving election bribes, promising a job to a voter, fraud, obstruction of justice and breach of trust.

Meanwhile, Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni was charged with bribery and breach of trust. Shimoni allegedly solicited funds from associates to pay over 1 million shekels (over $263,000) to two women who claimed that he had assaulted them sexually. The woman were employees of Atarim when Shimoni was the company’s CEO.

Shohat was ordered to remain in custody until Thursday. A police spokesman said six separate affairs are under investigation in Safed, including one in which Shohat is suspected of committing bribery offenses involving between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of shekels. At Shohat’s detention hearing, the police representative told the court that Shohat was cooperating with investigators but said that to further the investigation and prevent the suspect from communicating with witnesses, the mayor had to remain in custody.

Police said one of the investigations involved allegations of fraud during the 2013 mayoral election, and that the most recent allegations concern events from the past few months.

Police said Safed municipal officials arrested yesterday are suspected of issuing construction permits whose terms went beyond those of the original plans, allowing developers to increase their profits.

Members of the national police fraud unit raided city hall offices yesterday morning, while police officers and officials from the Israel Tax Authority also carried out searches of the homes of the suspects, confiscating computers and documents.

Last July a lawsuit filed by a former driver for Shohat, Yossi Levy, was rejected. In the suit, Levy claimed, among other things, that he was sent by the mayor to transport a carton filled with envelopes containing cash.

Last year former Safed Mayor Oded Mairi was sentenced to eight months in prison and fined 150,000 shekels after pleading guilty to fraud and breach of trust in a plea bargain.

In the Ashkelon case, the “hush money” was allegedly obtained by Mayor Shimoni through fictitious loans, through a real estate agency allegedly set up as a front by Shimoni’s brother Ofer that transferred 366,000 shekels to the mayor, as well as via direct payments of some 170,000 shekels by businessmen. One suspect allegedly collected several hundred thousand shekels more from unknown sources.