Ashkelon mayor arrested on rape, bribery allegations

Ashkelon mayor arrested on rape, bribery allegations

Police believe Itamar Shimoni used NIS 500,000 in bribe money to buy the silence of one sexual assault victim

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Mayor of Ashkelon, Itamar Shimoni, on July 28, 2014. (Flash 90)
Mayor of Ashkelon, Itamar Shimoni, on July 28, 2014. (Flash 90)

Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni was arrested on suspicion of rape, corruption and bribery on Tuesday.

The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extended Shimoni’s remand for eight days.

According to the charges, Shimoni and his associates accepted bribes totaling hundreds of thousands of shekels from contractors and building developers in exchange for municipal approvals for various construction projects in the southern coastal city.

A witness told investigators that Shimoni used NIS 500,000 ($127,000) in kickbacks to buy the silence of a former female municipal employee whom he sexually assaulted over a period of time, Channel 2 reported.

At least four women have accused Shimoni of sexual assault, and one has accused him of rape.

Charges against Shimoni include bribery, breach of trust, money laundering and rape.

Shimoni on Tuesday morning was arrested along with four other city officials, among them his brother Ofer Shimoni, as part of a wider fraud investigation by the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit.

Police conducted searches of the Ashkelon city hall and all five suspects’ homes and seized documents, computers and other property as evidence.

According to Haaretz, Shimoni has admitted to receiving money from a number of his associates, but maintains the funds were loans, and not bribes.

Shimoni’s attorney Yaron London said his client was innocent and that he had “good explanations” for the allegations leveled against him.

“His actions are not criminal,” London said, adding that Shimoni was cooperating fully with investigators.

During the remand hearing on Tuesday morning, Shimoni declined to talk about the details of the investigation, but told reporters he was “calm” in the face of the potential indictment.

Last year, Shimoni drew harsh responses from Israeli leaders after he announced he would he would lay off Arab construction workers installing bomb shelters in local kindergartens. Days later, he backtracked from his proposal, calling it “disproportionate.”

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