Sderot mayor probed for misuse of donor funds

Eli Moyal may be questioned under caution on suspicion of cronyism and misuse of approximately NIS 300 million.

eli moyal 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
eli moyal 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal may be questioned under caution in the coming weeks on suspicion of cronyism and misuse of approximately NIS 300 million that has been given to Sderot in the seven years since Kassam rockets began to fall in the western Negev town. Channel 10 reported Monday evening that the mayor, who has become a familiar face on television screens, has been the subject of a National Fraud Squad probe for the past year. Police, however, were furious at the information leaked to the television station, saying "we are very sorry about this leak, because its publication seriously damaged the probe's chances at arriving at the truth." Officers from the Intelligence and Investigation Division did confirm the reports that "the NFS's southern desk has been running for a certain time an investigation following complaints of Sderot residents, in which they alleged that Mayor Eli Moyal and others were involved in carrying out criminal acts." One officer characterized the leak as "details related to the investigation leaked to the media by a party with personal interests, outside of the police, related to the investigation." The undercover part of that probe, the report claimed, has reached its end, and the probe will now be conducted openly. Investigators were expected to visit the Sderot Municipality in the coming days to search the premesis for documents and other evidence to back up police suspicions. Police have gone so far as to solicit witnesses to offer damning testimony against Moyal. One of those is likely to be Danny Belchnes, a local contractor who claims to have benefited from Moyal's cronyism. One instance cited by the report was the awarding of a contract to fortify Sderot's buildings - a project that has received around NIS 100m. in recent years. In that case, one of the two companies bidding on the project was legally represented by Moyal's brother Moti. Yosi Priente of the Ya'az contracting company said that he had been told to offer a higher bid and that he would lose - but would be later awarded the next fortification contract. Channel 10 broadcast a tape in which Moyal's voice is heard saying "don't hold a bidding process. Just give [the project] to the contractor I tell you." Moyal claims he would have preferred that the bids to expand Sderot's fortified buildings be carried out openly, but that the Home Front Command invoked the Life-Saving Law. That law states that in an emergency situation, when work at hand could be life-saving, normal bidding processes can be laid by the wayside to speed up the delivery of the service. The Home Front Command, however, told Channel 10 that the reality was the complete opposite - that Moyal had pushed to invoke the emergency law. The report also detailed other allegations, including that Moyal had paid out exorbitant sums, such as NIS 450 for painting a single sewer cover, to contractor friends. Police emphasized, however, that "in spite of the circumstances created by this leak, the police will continue to investigate and will do everything in its power to... carry it through to its conclusion."