Bar allegedly aimed to triple size of hi-rise project

Ramat Gan mayor tells city council: I will fight for my honor.

Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar, the subject of a lengthy bribery investigation, allegedly worked to expand a residential project in the city to more than triple its size, at the expense of other municipal projects, it emerged on Monday.
The Savion Tower was initially meant to include 44 residential units, a number that later ballooned to 156 units on 35 floors. As the project got larger, builders realized that they would not be able to construct a building of that scale on the property slated for development. Contractors then requested that the city allow them to build on an adjacent lot allocated for the construction of a senior citizens’ recreation center. The city granted the request.
On Sunday, Bar responded for the first time to the allegations against him, telling a city council meeting, “I will fight for my honor, and believe me, there will be surprises.”
He added, “I will deal with this alone, and God will help me.”
During the meeting, Bar surprised attendants by rising from his seat and excusing himself, saying he had to take his wife to see a play at the Habima Theater in Tel Aviv.
After he left, a number of those in attendance called on Bar to step down as mayor of Ramat Gan.
Last Thursday, police recommended that state prosecutors weigh an indictment against Bar, following their investigation into the “Garden Party” affair. According to police, the investigation began nearly two-and-a-half years ago, following suspicions that Bar – a one-time high-ranking Israel Police commander – was involved in bribery, money-laundering, aggravated fraud and income tax violations.
Police said they had gathered included enough solid evidence to prove that Bar had taken bribes from a number of local businessmen in Ramat Gan to help advance their real estate projects in the city.
The investigation began when MK Carmel Shama (Likud), then head of the Ramat Gan Municipality’s inspection committee and planning and construction board, filed a complaint with police in 2004 after his repeated calls to have the municipality probe suspected wrongdoing had gone unheeded.
A spokeswoman for Shama said Sunday that the former Ramat Gan city official had gone to police “because he was a public figure and he wanted to do what he could to reveal what was going on.”
Shama told investigators that the municipality would have building appraisals for the project carried out by an outside appraiser who would be paid a large fee. His requests to hold a discussion on the matter were repeatedly delayed.
During one of the meetings, Bar reportedly told Shama dismissively that he could just “go to the police” – and Shama later did so.
Police reportedly have testimony from at least one builder who said he bribed Bar and other city officials to expedite his project.
The spokeswoman added that Shama’s office had followed up with police and the Justice Ministry in subsequent years to see what progress had been made on the case.
According to a statement by Shama’s office last Thursday, “Zvi Bar changed the city of gardens [Ramat Gan’s nickname] to a city of cement and towers. He gave contractors all they could dream of, for the right price.”
The statement added that Bar was “the head of the snake” in Ramat Gan building corruption, and said time would reveal that “what happened in Ramat Gan is actually worse than the Holyland scandal.”
The investigation was originally launched in December 2008 with searches of the homes and offices of suspects, in which a large number of documents were seized. As part of the investigation, police reportedly interviewed a slew of suspects and gathered information both in Israel and abroad.
The Ramat Gan Municipality issued a statement Thursday saying that “wemust accept the police announcement even though it has no relevance,being that only the State Attorney’s Office can handle cases involvingelected officials. We are convinced that after the prosecutors receivethe investigative material from police, the case will be closed withoutan indictment.”
Bar was first elected mayor of the city in 1989, and is currentlyserving his fifth term. He was last questioned by police from theNational Fraud Investigative Unit in 2008, on suspicion of involvementin a previous corruption case involving Ramat Gan building projects.
This past February, state prosecutors dropped a case in which Bar wasaccused of taking bribes to advance the building of parking lots in TelAviv.
The case was closed after the chief witness in the “parking lotsaffair,” so-called “parking lot king” Ruben Gross, passed away after along illness.