(photo credit: MEIR TURGEMAN)
The Israel Police arrested Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman on Monday as part a corruption probe involving senior officials in the capital’s municipality.
Turgeman, the head of the municipality’s Planning and Construction Committee, is suspected of accepting bribes. He was arrested along with five other officials who are suspected of fraud, breach of trust, abuse of power and tax offenses.
The police said in a statement they will “keep investigating misconduct carried out in a conflict of interest.”
They will “go anywhere there is a suspicion of public corruption that harms the day-to-day administration and the ordinary citizens,” the statement said.
The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extended Turgeman’s remand until Thursday.
Turgeman is suspected of accepting bribes to advance the interests of construction entrepreneurs in several locations in Jerusalem, including in the historic Post Office Building on Jaffa Street and in the Artemisia Events Hall in Talpiot.
Turgeman is said to have used his power to influence the Municipal Site Preservation Committee to allow for the breaking of walls in the historic building front. In return, one of the suspects signed a loan guarantee for Turgeman.
Turgeman announced last month he intends to run for mayor in the October municipal elections.
Turgeman’s attorney, Eitan Peleg, told The Jerusalem Post
he believes his client is innocent.
“Turgeman is a loyal civil servant,” he said. “We believe that nothing will come out of these allegations. He is cooperating with the police interrogators, and we are sure that at the end of the process it will be found out that there is nothing.”
In response to Turgeman’s arrest, former Jerusalem deputy mayor and current MK Rachel Azaria said: “It is about time to clean the Jerusalem Municipality [from corruption]. There were severe cases in the past... and former council members from the Planning and Construction Committee are not sitting in prison for corruption. The mayor, along with the police, should put an end to this because the residents of Jerusalem are paying the price.”
City Councilwoman Laura Wharton said the whole mechanism for city planning and construction in Jerusalem is corrupt, and Monday’s arrests are just “the tip of the iceberg.”
“I am sorry for the devoted employees who were caught up in this situation,” she said. “But I am much more sorry for the residents who suffer on a daily basis from this lawlessness... It is good that they started to arrest and interrogate senior officials who use their position to get rich... It is not too much to ask public representatives to act with integrity and incorruptibility.”
“We are fed up with corruption cases that are tearing our democracy apart,” Wharton said. “I expect the law-enforcement authorities to forcefully act to restore the integrity of Jerusalem’s City Hall... so we can defeat this dangerous phenomenon.”