Lod mayor suspected of fraud, taking bribes

In a hearing that lasted into the early hours of Monday morning, Lod Mayor Benny Regev and 11 other suspects tried to fight remand extensions as the first round of court battles surrounding alleged bribery for city contracts began. Israeli legal heavyweights such as Yoram Hacham, Avi Amiram and Yoram Halevy argued to no avail that their respective clients be released to house arrest rather than face police detention. As the arguments began, previously unreleased details were revealed in the case that allegedly involves Regev, his family members, his former personal assistant, and highly-placed officials of three corporations. According to the allegations made during the hearing by attorney and National Fraud Squad detective Ch.-Supt. Alon Tzarfati, Regev and his former assistant, Maor Abergil, 27, are suspected of having criminal business dealings with suspects Natan Shorer, Shimon Robert, and Shlomo Ben Haim, which were held in the context of communication between the Lod Municipality and two companies, Shohar Parking Services Incorporated and Metropolinet. Shorer, Robert and Ben Haim are all senior officials within the two companies, both of which were bidding for city contracts. According to police, Regev's sons Nir and Arik are suspected of "involvement and taking a part in some of the dealings" between their father and the corporate heads. In a second affair, which was being investigated simultaneously, police believe that the mayor, aided by his son Nir and his brother, Baruch, had illegal contacts with suspects Michel and Daniel Yitzhaki. The contacts were allegedly held in relation to a building project run by Daniel Yitzhaki's firm Migdalei Meirav for the economically stricken city. Another suspect, Yehuda Bar-On, was also allegedly involved in the affair while he was employed by the Lenko Company, a cohort in the building project. The final suspect, Baruch Regev's wife, Corinne Atiya, allegedly received illegal funds, and police said that they believed that she was aware of the criminal transactions. "This is a complicated affair which touches upon the Lod Municipality, senior officials in charge of the municipality, other people who had contact with the municipality, and people affiliated with them," the police attorney said in her opening statement. During the hearing, police presented a 70-page secret document, outlining specific charges and evidence against the twelve suspects, but emphasized that the non-secret investigation was only in the initial stages. To that end, the National Fraud Squad representatives requested that all of the suspects have their remand extended, due to a concern that they might try to tamper with potential evidence. Although much of the evidence, including specific monetary sums involved, was classified as secret, police said that they had ample evidence to prove that bribes had been accepted by some of the suspects. While police were not willing to detail exactly which accounts were examined, they confirmed that as part of the investigation, suspects' bank accounts had been investigated. Suspects' attorneys attempted to convince Judge Daniella Shirizli that jailing their clients was an unnecessary step. Robert's attorney, Ofer Bar-Tal, cited his 54-year-old client's health problems and his daughter's pregnancy as reasons to release the Metropolinet chairman to house arrest, while Abergil's attorney cited his client's recent marriage. Ultimately, even the arguments made by Nir Regev's attorney, Yoram Halevi, who previously represented the Ben-Ezra Construction Company in the Maccabiah Bridge collapse trial, and Amiram - who made headlines representing imprisoned murderer Herzl Avitan, political murderer Yona Avrushmi and IDF Col. Aatef Zaher - now representing Michel Yitzhaki, failed to keep their clients out of jail. Benny Regev, Baruch Regev and Abergil all had their remands extended by eight days. Atiya and Ben Haim's were extended by three days, Michel Yitzhaki, Bar-On, Shorer and Robert's were extended by four days, and Arik and Nir Regev and Daniel Yitzhaki's remands were extended by five days.