State to indict Ashkelon mayor on bribery, drops rape charges

State to indict Ashkelon mayor on bribery, drops rape charges

Prosecutors say not enough evidence to support sex offense allegations, acknowledge women’s silence was bought

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

The state prosecution on Monday said it was considering indicting Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni and a number of associates on charges of bribery, fraud, breach of trust, tax off pending a hearing.

Shimoni will not be indicted on previously reported allegations of rape, due to lack of evidence.

However, the prosecution noted that the allegations against Shimoni were directly tied to accusations of sexual misconduct: Shimoni is known to have signed compensation deals totaling over NIS 1 million with two former female employees who alleged sexual assault.

“In order to fund these expenses Shimoni turned to his associates, and these worked to raise money from various sources. With Shimoni’s knowledge, the associates raised funds from entrepreneurs and contractors active in Ashkelon. They sometimes used fictitious loan agreements to hid these actions.”

In response to the announcement, Shimoni expressed satisfaction at the removal of the sex offense allegations and said he believed he could convince prosecutors that there was no truth to the other charges as well. “If we do not succeed [in convincing prosecutors], we will do so in court,” he said.

Shimoni was arrested in January. 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.

Shimon allegedly used some of the received bribes to buy the women’s silence. Others he pocketed.

The mayor is also suspected of having an associate seek ownership in local media in order to influence positive reporting of Shimoni and the city council.

Shimoni 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.

The suspects will be afforded a hearing to address the charges, after which a final decision on indictments will be made.

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