Israeli Mayor Charged in Bribe Case Involving Hush Money Over Sexual Offenses

Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni allegedly solicited funds from contractors, in return for favors, to pay off two women who claimed he sexually assaulted them

Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni in court on Tuesday.
Motti Milrod

The mayor of Ashkelon, Itamar Shimoni, was indicted Tuesday for accepting bribes, breach of trust and tax-related offenses. The charges are connected with funds that he allegedly solicited from developers and contractors to pay hush money to two women who had accused him of sexually assaulting them.

The indictment alleges that the mayor signed the compensation agreements in 2014, committing to pay more than 1 million shekels ($266,000). Initially police had hoped to indict the mayor on charges directly related to the agreement, but due to a lack of evidence pursued allegations that the mayor asked his brother Ofer and Moshe Ponte, his assistant, to solicit the funds from developers and contractors who do business in the city.

The prosecution has requested that Shimoni be barred from serving as Ashkelon mayor, arguing that he would come into contact with people who would testify against him. Also charged in the case were Ofer Shimoni, Ponte, building contractor Yosef Davidi and lawyer Sharon Miller.

An attorney for the mayor, Sassy Gez, told Haaretz that Shimoni would prove his innocence. Gez said the mayor’s political opponents have been attempting to bring him down, even if it involved spreading false allegations against him.

Among the ties described in the indictment are the mayor’s alleged contacts with codefendant Davidi, a local businessman and contractor, described as a give-and-take relationship involving Davidi’s business interests including construction projects and Davidi’s purchase and closure of the Ashekelon 10 website, which had been highly critical of the mayor.

“Immediately following the purchase, Davidi halted the website’s operations, this with Shimoni’s knowledge,” the indictment states. “In return for Davidi’s actions, Itamar Shimoni acted himself and through others to advance Davidi’s interests in the city of Ashkelon.”

The indictment also alleges that Davidi, who acquired a local newspaper, Kol Ashkelon, approached the mayor on several occasion asking that the city curb its advertising in a competing publication, Obyectivi, and that Shimoni made efforts to comply.

Shimoni also purportedly received 466,000 shekels from Davidi and another businessman in the real estate sector, Gabi Magnezi, through use of a marketing agreement and fictitious tax invoices. Shimoni is accused of working to get the city to make decisions that favored the two.

The indictment also alleges that the mayor received more than 575,000 shekels via associates, mostly from unknown sources, to fund the compensation agreement to the women who accused him of sexually assaulting them.

Ofer Shimoni is accused of opening a real estate brokerage firm that was purportedly used to funnel funds from Davidi in the guise that they were brokerage commissions. His lawyers denied the allegations.

Miller is accused of transferring 75,000 shekels to Ponte, which was allegedly followed by the signing of a fictitious loan agreement. Lawyers for Davidi and Ponte have also said their clients are innocent.