In a dramatic move, the Israeli High Court of Justice decided Sunday to dismiss Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani in accordance with a petition from government watchdog Ometz and following his indictment three weeks ago on five counts of corruption charges, including bribery, fraud, breach of trust and failure to disclose income. The announcement comes just two days before municipal elections.
Despite the ruling, the High Court has allowed Lahiani to run in the upcoming mayoral race.
The decision, made by the panel of judges under Supreme Court of Israel President Asher Grunis, was unanimous. Supreme Court Deputy President Miriam Naor stressed that the Bat Yam City Council decision to keep Lahiani in his post is "extremely unreasonable, and it is justified to interfere with it. The severity of his actions can be seen in the acts attributed to Lahiani in the indictment, and noting that Lahiani has no intention to withdraw from the Bat Yam mayoral race, one cannot put up with the continuance of his mayorship, even for a short time."
Naor criticized the fact that Lahiani's indictment was given only a few weeks before the municipal elections, and stated "this warrants an apology."
If he is elected again, the new council that will be elected will have to discuss the his continued mayorship, and its decision will again be subject to judicial review. During the hearing, before the sentence was given, Grunis said that the Bat Yam City Council, which had decided not to dismiss Lahiani, "made a joke out of the High Court's ruling."
Attorney Gad Mina, who represented Ometz, responded: "Lahiani's attempt to prevent his dismissal before the election date was an abject failure. From the beginning, Lahiani did not need to bring the matter to court. The lesson for the general public, and for the voters in Bat Yam especially, must be understood -- Lahiani is not fit to serve as a mayor as long as there is such a serious indictment against him."
Lahiani commented: "I have been charged, but I am innocent of every accusation, and I deserve a presumption of innocence. The law allows me to run, so I will run for mayor. The voices of the Bat Yam residents will be heard, and no one will be able to ignore that after the elections."