Bat Yam Mayor Lahiani.
(photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani’s bribery trial got under way in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday with the prosecutor opening by saying that “a well-run city does not excuse corruption.”
The prosecution’s tactic appeared to reflect the need to give a nod to Lahiani’s popularity as the mayor who cleaned up Bat Yam, while still holding him accountable for the alleged corruption.
The mayor, who is temporarily suspended from his post, was arraigned in October 2013 on charges of taking around NIS 900,000 in bribes.
The alleged bribes were in exchange for advancing the interests of local businessmen in Bat Yam and asking nine municipal employees to take bank loans and transfer the money to him, starting in 2005, the prosecution says.
Lahiani is also accused of a conflict of interest for holding partial ownership in a local newspaper in which the Bat Yam Municipality bought advertising space.
While Lahiani says he did not know about the illegalities and that others, such as his brother Avi, had acted independently, prosecutor Sharon Cahana said that the opposite was true.
She said that Avi, who is also a defendant in the corruption case, acted in tandem with the mayor at virtually all times, and that to the extent he acted on his own, it was at the mayor’s direction, and only to try to cover his own tracks.
Cahana said that the case against Lahiani not only included documentary evidence, but also substantial evidence from wiretapped telephone conversations.
After being reelected as mayor of Bat Yam in October 2013 despite having been indicted and previously fired by the High Court of Justice, Lahiani was temporarily suspended by a new committee set up to suspend certain mayors under indictment for serious corruption charges.
After his arraignment, Lahiani said this is “my first time in court” and “I’m sure it will end well.”
He added that after a long wait for the state to decide about whether to indict him, the court would finally get to rule on the charges and he was “sure the court will make the right decision.”
Before the indictment, Lahiani was a highly popular mayor and was credited with a level of revitalization of Bat Yam.
The case may be a flashpoint if Supreme Court Justice Yoram Danziger is called as a state witness against Lahiani.
At an earlier stage of the investigation, Danziger was considered an additional suspect, having served as Lahiani’s lawyer and being his close friend, and he had to temporarily suspend himself from his judicial duties. He was later cleared of suspicion.
Earlier in the case, various tax-crime charges against Lahiani were thrown out when he successfully convinced the state to drop them at a pre-indictment hearing.