The Tel Aviv District Court on Tuesday ordered the results of last year’s Bat Yam mayoral election to be vacated due to election fraud.
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Judge Ruth Lebhar-Sharon ruled in favor of Eli Yariv, who appealed to the court after losing to current mayor Yossi Bachar by a mere 491 votes (1.2 percent.) Yariv claimed that Bachar had used illegitimate tactics.
Bachar is a close associate of former mayor Shlomo Lahiani, who was sentenced to eight months in prison after being convicted of fraud.
Bechar was ordered to pay court costs of some 60,000 shekels ($15,950.)
The judge found that Bachar had made false election promises, granted prohibited favors to his supporters and illegally used municipal workers in his campaign.
By law, new elections will be held in four months, unless Bachar appeals the verdict to the Supreme Court.
The favors and promises given by Bachar were “so numerous as to indicate an unacceptable pattern and behavior,” the judge wrote in her verdict.
The judge noted that, as acting mayor, Bachar had “increased authority and influence and the possibility to scatter promises, with municipal resources at his disposal, a fact that magnified the severity of his wrongdoing, damaged equality between the candidates and contravened the law and the explicit directives of the attorney general.”
The promises made by Bachar involved education, culture, employment, municipal taxes, legal proceedings and business permits, the judge said. She noted that, in some instances, the promises involved granting requests that the authorities had previously denied – “and so on the face of things one wonders what led the respondent, precisely at the time of the election, to change his mind.”
The judge noted that Bachar had backtracked on some of his promises right after the election, “which shows that the promises were given with the sole purpose of influencing the voters to support him.”
One of the affairs the judge mentioned at length in her verdict was the involvement of former mayor Lahiani in the election, although he had been convicted of fraud with a finding of moral turpitude. “Lahiani stopped at nothing, working energetically and publicly for the respondent’s election, scattering promises as if he were still mayor,” she said. “He appeared at election rallies for Bachar and stressed that a vote for Bachar was a vote for him.”
The judge ruled that Bachar was aware of Lahiani’s actions, cooperated with him and ignored the fact that Lahiani had made promises in his name.
The judge also noted that Bachar promised not to raise municipal taxes at the Bat Yam shopping mall a few days before the election, although he knew a decision had already been made to do so and he did not have the authority to change it.
“Under these circumstances there is no doubt that the mayor’s statement was intended to improve his chances of winning the election,” the verdict states, adding: “What is worse, the promise was signed by the major, which gave it greater validity and harmed equality between the candidates.”
Lebhar-Sharon also related extensively to her finding of illicit involvement by Bachar and his associates in matters before the municipal prosecutor. Senior municipal officials, the judge found, “forced [the prosecutor] to reach lenient arrangements and delay indictments, all very close to the elections, without any material justification.”
In once case cited by the judge, the municipality’s legal adviser, Hannah Cohen-Mintz, ordered that a 3,000 shekel fine on a Bat Yam resident be reduced, after the resident sent a letter to the mayor promising to support him in exchange for a reduction in the fine.
In another case, a 10,000 shekel fine levied on Bat Yam resident Sami Ben-Sheetrit, who had run an unlicensed business for seven years, was reduced after the election. “This is a favor given as a prize after the election, for the support of Sami Ben-Sheetrit, who, among other things, organized lighting at no charge for the respondent’s victory party,” the judge wrote.
The judge also named close associates of the mayor, including municipality director general Erez Podemsky, and deputy mayor Victor Tal, as having wrongly intervened in granting favors to Bachar’s supporters. These favors including delaying indictments and demolition orders.
Responding to the court’s finding, Yariv said: “In light of the clear verdict for the good of the residents of Bat Yam, I suggest that Mr. Bachar resign immediately and help me unify the city of Bat Yam.”
Bachar responded that he respected the court’s ruling but believed it to be “mistaken in intervening in democratic elections on the basis of unfounded claims by interested parties. After we study the verdict, we will decide whether to appeal.”