Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gafsou.
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/MAARIV)
Haifa District Court Judge Oded Gershon on Sunday gave Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gafsou and his former top deputy, Adi Barko, lenient sentences with no jail time, paving the way for Gafsou to return to office despite convictions on bribery and fraud charges.
Gafsou’s sentence was six months of community service, a NIS 20,000 fine and a one-year suspended sentence that can be activated if he violates a similar crime in the next three years.
In a trial that started in January 2014, the prosecution had asked the court to sentence Gafsou to between eight and 24 months in prison, and the prosecution is considering an appeal.
Already late Sunday, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel had called on the state to appeal the lenient sentence, to make a statement about the severity of public corruption.
Gershon rejected the prosecution’s request on several grounds.
First, he said that Gafsou was the first to be convicted of the specific kind of bribery he found him guilty of.
It was determined that following the 2008 municipal elections, Gafsou and Barko received what constituted a bribe by conditioning the completion of a financial transaction, in which City Council member Samyoun Brown was involved, upon his resigning from the council.
Gafsou had also been accused of accepting financial bribes from the head of the Ramle-Lod market in exchange for certain privileges and of bribing various persons to support his election by promising them jobs with the municipality following his election, as well as executing a secret coalition agreement with another local party, in violation of election law.
But the main issue was asking Brown to resign, and since this kind of conviction was new, though on the books for some time, Gershon thought he should be lenient.
Gershon added that since the prosecution took four years to file the indictment, and since Gafsou had been suspended as mayor for a year, the court decided that he had suffered enough.
The movement responded it was problematic to let Gafsou return to office just because the state did not file its indictment in a timely manner.
After the indictment and shortly before the October 2013 municipal elections, Gafsou was fired by the High Court of Justice, along with two other indicted mayors – Ramat Hasharon’s Yitzhak Rochberger and Bat Yam’s Shlomo Lahiani.
However, the High Court left open the possibility of Gafsou running for reelection, and he won by a landslide, despite the bad press associated with the indictment and his firing.
Soon after the election, the movement filed a petition with the High Court to refire Gafsou, but the Knesset passed a law in December 2013 that provided for suspending mayors under indictment under certain circumstances, and Gafsou has been suspended until now.