A public relations battle was waged on Tuesday and Wednesday over the political future of Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani, indicted for bribery and other crimes.
Lahiani said he was considering all possibilities, including resignation, while the NGO Ometz called for immediate resignation or removal.
Ometz, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel, said that Lahiani was obligated to resign by a recent High Court of Justice ruling on mayors in similar circumstances.
It added that if Lahiani did not immediately resign, the Bat Yam City Council was equally obligated to meet immediately and remove him.
Ometz added that any other decision by the city council, in light of the recent High Court ruling, would contradict the basic values of moral purity in the public sphere as well as the legal principles governing the issues.
At press time, Lahiani still had not resigned and no action had been taken by the city council to remove him.
In such prior cases, Ometz successfully petitioned the High Court, removing other mayors, though the court still allowed those mayors to run for a new term on the principle that voters could decide how much an indictment against a mayor should impact their choice.
Only weeks before municipal elections, the state’s financial crimes unit on Tuesday filed an indictment against Lahiani in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on charges of bribery, fraud, breach of public trust and perjury.
Lahiani is suspected of taking – starting in 2005 – around NIS 900,000 in bribes to advance the interests of local businessmen in Bat Yam and asking nine municipal employees to take bank loans and transfer the money to him.
He is also accused of a conflict of interest for holding partial ownership in a local newspaper from which the Bat Yam Municipality bought advertising space.
Prior to the indictment, Lahiani was considered a highly popular mayor and was credited with a level of revitalization of the city.
The case will also be a flashpoint because Supreme Court Justice Yoram Danziger will be called as a state’s witness against Lahiani.
At an earlier stage of the investigation, Danziger was even considered as an additional suspect, having served as Lahiani’s lawyer and, being a close friend, had to temporarily suspend himself from his Supreme Court duties, though he was later cleared of suspicion.
Various tax crimes charges pending against the mayor were thrown out following Lahiani’s successful attempt to convince the state to drop the charges as part of a special pre-indictment hearing where he presented counter-evidence.
The indictment comes some three weeks before municipal elections on October 22 in which Lahiani was running for reelection as mayor.
According to law, public officials are only disqualified from office when convicted of a crime carrying a finding of moral turpitude.
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