Embattled Bat Yam mayor threatens to take Lindenstrauss to court

Embattled Bat Yam mayor

Amid rumors of a police investigation, allegations of cronyism and a State Comptroller's Report accusing him of redirecting NIS 430,000 of public campaign funds into his wife's bank account, Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani returned fire on Thursday, threatening legal action against his detractors - including State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss himself. "I'll take him to court and prove he has no authority to determine how I should to spend my money," Lahiani told Army Radio. "In my eyes, there is no difference whatsoever whether the person who manages the election headquarters is Dorit Lahiani or Micha Lindenstrauss; whoever did the work deserves the money, period." Lahiani said that he would sue Lindenstrauss over a report that blasted candidates for their financial misdeeds during last November's local elections. In his report released on Wednesday, Lindenstrauss cited the example of NIS 430,000 attempted to be paid by Lahiani's party to Lahiani's wife, Dorit, for services rendered as "headquarters manager" during the campaign season. Lahiani said that in the past, he had paid similar sums to other advisers, and that he had cleared the initial employment of Dorit with the state comptroller. Dorit Lahiani received NIS 180,000 for her services, but Lahiani said that the additional NIS 250,000 was a "success bonus" that she earned in the election. Lindenstrauss, said Lahiani, had refused to allow the Finance Ministry to fund that bonus. In his report, the state comptroller blasted the practice of paying "success bonuses" to employees and contractors. Nevertheless, in many cases, he approved their payment - but not in Lahiani's. Shlomo Lahiani said on Thursday that he would petition the High Court of Justice to order the Finance Ministry to pay his wife the additional NIS 250,000 - and that all of the money would be donated to charity. Lindenstrauss was not one to remain silent in the face of Lahiani's barrage. The state comptroller labeled the mayor's comments "absurd." "Shlomo Lahiani knows himself that he is making absurd arguments while he is trying to escape the probing public criticism leveled against him following the report," Lindenstrauss said. "Even if the law does not forbid politicians from employing family members in the election campaign, logic and public honesty do not sit well together with the large amounts of funds that Lahiani paid his wife, Dorit." Lindenstrauss emphasized that the money involved was not privately raised, but rather public funds provided by the Finance Ministry to local party lists. Although Lahiani is popular in Bat Yam, and ran unopposed in the election, he is plagued by allegations of cronyism. Since taking office, he has made at least 14 appointments of people close to him to top spots in city hall. He appointed his mother, a preschool assistant, as the head of all of the city's early childhood facilities - an appointment that already won him notoriety in an earlier State Comptroller's Report. Lahiani's brother won a contract with city hall to operate a restaurant on the city's beach front - and allegedly pays around half of the commission that a neighboring restaurant does. Lahiani said on Thursday that he is also in the process of suing Channel 2 Television News's chief investigator, Haim Rivlin, for libel and defamation after Rivlin released a highly critical report about Lahiani's dealings as mayor on the investigative show Uvda.