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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal announced on Tuesday that effective immediately he will indefinitely suspend himself from his position.
The decision came just one day after detectives appeared at city hall to search for evidence documenting alleged corruption among Sderot's leaders, including Moyal himself.
Rabbi Oren Malka will act as temporary mayor of Sderot until the self-imposed suspension ends.
Investigators from the National Fraud Squad's Southern Desk and the Israel Tax Authority combed files in the three-story building on Monday as part of an ongoing investigation concerning suspicions of administrative irregularities in the municipality.
Detectives also searched a number of additional locations in the city, and police said that people linked to allegations were expected to be questioned. City hall was closed throughout the day, even after the investigators left, taking with them file boxes containing hundreds of pages of documents.
But although he has been portrayed as a central suspect, Moyal did not seem worried about the investigation as he sat in a brown armchair in his living room on Monday. If anything, he told The Jerusalem Post, he welcomed it.
"I'm glad there is an investigation," said Moyal, because it is easier to fight false charges within the court of law than in the court of public opinion.
Since he is innocent, he said, "I have nothing to hide."
In early July, a Channel 10 report revealed what some disgruntled Sderot residents had been claiming for months that Moyal was suspected of cronyism and misuse of the approximately NIS 300 million that has been given to Sderot in the seven years since the Kassams began to fall in the western Negev town.
While running a city under constant threat of Kassams, Moyal, it turned out, had been the subject of a National Fraud Squad probe for the past year after police said they received "complaints from Sderot residents, in which they alleged that Mayor Eli Moyal and others were involved in carrying out criminal acts."
In July, it was reported that the municipality offices would be searched in the coming weeks, but police would not explain Monday why almost exactly two months had passed since the undercover part of the investigation was concluded before the offices were searched.
Allegations against Moyal have included claims that he tampered with the awarding of the government-funded NIS 100m. contract to fortify Sderot's buildings against the rockets. Channel 10 broadcast a tape in which Moyal's voice is heard during a conversation in which he said "don't hold a bidding process. Just give [the project] to the contractor I tell you."