Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni is to be suspended from office following his indictment for bribery, breach of trust and tax offenses, the Interior Ministry announced on Tuesday.
After hearing arguments from Shimoni and the prosecution, the Interior Ministry committee on suspension of mayors determined with the agreement of both sides that Shimoni would be suspended for a year.
“I intend to free myself of all my activities to prove my innocence and return to office,” Shimoni wrote on his Facebook page.
According to the indictment, served two weeks ago, Shimoni received letters from two women in 2014 who claimed he had committed sexual offenses against them and demanding compensation. On two different occasions Shimoni signed compensation agreements with the women, in which he was required to pay them more than a million shekels (around $270,000). Shimoni allegedly asked his brother, Ofer Shimoni, and a close associate, Moshe Ponte, to help him raise the money. With Shimoni’s knowledge, the two acted to raise the money, among other sources from developers and contractors working in Ashkelon.
Shimoni wrote to his followers with regard to his suspension:
“Because I appreciate the great love and support I have received from you all along the way, especially in this recent difficult time, I want you to be the first to know that I have made a decision over the past few days that was not easy – to suspend myself from the office of mayor.”
Shimoni said that in the coming months he would be focusing on his legal struggle and his family. “I will be around to give advice and a good word to those who are now taking the reins – acting mayor Efi Mor and municipal director general Haim Sofer.”
In addition to the indictment, the prosecution asked that Shimoni be barred from continuing in office because he would be in close proximity to people who would be testifying against him in the future “with the business matters of the givers of the bribes under discussion all the time in the municipality.”
The committee for the suspension of mayors met on instructions from Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. The committee is headed by Judge Moshe Gal, and its members include former Tel Aviv District Attorney Miriam Rosenthal and former Yeruham mayor Moti Avisrur.
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