Mazuz Nixes Apartment Deal for Gaza Strip Evacuees

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz decided to halt a plan to acquire a 60-unit apartment tower in Ashkelon for Kfar Darom evacuees.

Two weeks after approving one of the more controversial deals regarding disengagement, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has now decided to halt a plan to acquire a 60-unit apartment tower in Ashkelon for Kfar Darom evacuees.

Mazuz intervened four days after details of the deal, which would have incurred a $3 million loss to the state, were published by Haaretz.

The idea was to find a temporary solution. However, rather than renting apartments, the state was planning to buy the apartment block from Jerusalem contractor Menashe Levy for $8 million to $8.5 million. Levy would have a buy-back option after two years for about $5 million to $5.5 million.

The state would effectively be paying about NIS 8,000 a month in rent per apartment, at least three times the going rate in Asheklon for five-room apartments.

The Committee for Disengagement Affairs, headed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, approved the unusual deal, despite the fact that it was made without a tender and at 45 percent above the assessed value of the building, a very rare situation in the struggling real estate market, where most deals are closed under the assessed value.

Additional inspections, which the government's assessor conducted over the last two weeks, raised serious concerns of building irregularities and revealed that construction was incomplete in some of the apartments. The fact that the contractor had unsuccessfully marketed the complex for five years put the exorbitant price in very suspect light.

Senior Justice Ministry sources were particularly critical about management of the disengagement. "There were all kinds of people in the government who tried, throughout the disengagement process, to provide perks to evacuees above and beyond what is acceptable," they said.