In an unprecedented ruling handed down late Tuesday afternoon, an extended panel of High Court judges decided that Ramat Hasharon Mayor Yitzhak Rochberger and Nazareth Illit Mayor Shimon Gapso must step down in wake of the corruption charges they both face.
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Rochberger faces charges of breach of trust, fraud, and false reporting in corporate papers from the time he served as the chairperson of a pension fund. The indictment filed against him also claimed he fraudulently received some NIS 120,000 (slightly less than $39,000) from the fund while later serving as mayor.
Gapso is charged with receiving bribes and, according to the prosecutor, together with a city councilman, with conditioning the continued employment of a municipality worker on her husband's resignation. The woman's husband was a city council member at the time, and his failure to resign led to the woman's termination, the indictment claimed.
In explaining their ruling, the judges claimed that the Nazareth Illit's city council's decision to allow Gapso to remain in office "is incongruent with the principle of the rule of law."
Regarding Rochberger, the judges noted that the city council's failure to congregate to discuss the issue of his continued incumbency is also "incongruent with the rule of law."
Regarding both, the judges said that the behavior described by their indictments painted a picture of behavior unbefitting a mayor and hence they ruled that the decision to keep the two in office is unreasonable.
Nonetheless, they claimed that barring them from public office was "publically problematic" and hence the two could take part in the upcoming local elections – though, if they were to win, their respective city councils would still need to reconvene to discuss whether they could serve and the court could rule to remove them from office for a second time.
'I promise I will not be convicted'
The court's Chief Justice Asher Grunis was the ruling's sole dissenter. "A person facing such an indictment is unfit to continue to serve, nor to contend in the coming elections. However, due to the fact that the elections are nearing, the court had no room to put itself in place of the voters."
In response, Gapzo said: "I respect the Supreme Court's decision. I will continue to fight to prove my innocence… I am convinced that in the end justice will prevail and everyone will know that I was punished though I'm innocent. I'm positive that after the elections I will continue to lead Nazareth Illit and its citizens with loyalty and perseverance, as I have done until this day."
Rochberger said in response that "I numbly accept the court's decision. I intend to run and win this election. I intend to prove my innocence. I will be proven innocent. If the public wants me as mayor – I promise I will be not be convicted."
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