Eight people were indicted Wednesday for organizing fraudulent voting by using other people’s identity cards to cast ballots during the municipal elections for the city council of Beit Shemesh in 2013.
The suspects face charges of conspiracy to commit a crime and receiving property in aggravated circumstances.
According to the indictments, filed at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, the suspects gathered identity cards from eligible voters who were not planning to cast a ballot and then passed them on to others who voted for ultra-Orthodox Shas party mayoral candidate Moshe Abutbul.
Abutbul, the incumbent mayor, won the October 2013 election by a narrow margin. But a decision to call new elections was reached by the Jerusalem District Court two months later, after then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein and defeated secular mayoral candidate Eli Cohen appealed the results over allegations of widespread fraud.
Police had discovered hundreds of identity cards in an apartment and car believed to belong to Abutbul supporters, as well as a cache of clothing that apparently served to disguise individuals who voted multiple times on election day. Investigators suspected that Shaya Brand, an associate of Abutbul, organized a plan to identify nonvoters and pay them for their identity cards, so that Abutbul supporters could use them to cast fraudulent ballots.
Abutbul also succeeded in winning the follow-up election, held in March 2014, with 19,401 votes, or 51%, while Cohen received 18,643 votes, some 49%.
The election results were particularly sensitive in volatile Beit Shemesh, which has become deeply divided in recent years between the secular population and a burgeoning ultra-Orthodox community. Tensions in the city have led to several violent incidents, often initiated by extremist ultra-Orthodox men toward women and girls they deemed immodest.