Ashkelon Mayor Indicted For Bribery, Money-Laundering

Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni and some of his top lieutenants were indicted in the Tel Aviv District Court on Tuesday for bribery, money-laundering and a slew of other crimes involving more than NIS 1 million related to efforts to obtain hush money to pay two women in exchange for their silence about sex crimes Shimoni allegedly committed against them.

The indictment filed by the Tel Aviv Economic Crimes Unit stated that Shimoni received two letters from the women in 2014 claiming he had committed sex crimes against them.

He eventually signed an agreement with the women promising more than NIS 1 million to each in exchange for their silence.

Shimoni turned to his brother Ofer and his top aide Moshe Fuenta to help him gather the funds.

Ofer and Fuenta, who were also indicted, contacted various business persons with interests in Ashkelon to set up an exchange of funds for influence.

Ofer made an agreement with real estate businessmen Yoel Davidi and Gabi Magnazi to send NIS 366,000 in funds to a company owned by Ofer, nominally for consulting services.

However, in reality, significant portions of the funds were laundered and siphoned off by Ofer to pay off the women on behalf of his brother, Itamar, all with Itamar’s knowledge, according to the indictment.

The influence which the businesspersons purchased ranged from ensuring municipal approvals for their projects to other favorable treatment by local authorities.

Davidi was also indicted, whereas it was unclear what Magnazi’s status was – whether he was cooperating with the state, not being indicted or being dealt with separately.

Meanwhile, Fuenta allegedly arranged a similar deal with lawyer and businessperson Sharon Miller, in which NIS 75,000 in funds were provided to Fuenta to pay off Itamar’s debts to the two women.

During the course of these fund transfers, many of the defendants forged and drafted fake documents to present the transactions as valid loans or other valid transactions, said the indictment.

Overall, Itamar received NIS 466,000 in bribes and NIS 577,000 in funds which breached his obligation of public trust.

Whereas the bribes were a straight quid pro quo money for specific favors by Itamar and his lieutenants, the breach of public trust funds signified no specific quid pro quo, but that funds were actively concealed; that relations between the parties presented a clear conflict of interest; and that the parties potentially committed tax crimes.

The state is seeking a special committee empowered to decide local issues to suspend Itamar as mayor pending the trial.

The Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel called on the political echelon to institute sweeping reforms of greater oversight in the relationship between municipal officials and real estate businesspersons, since this case is one of dozens in recent years showing it is too easy for those relations to turn criminal.

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