Supermarket magnate and Israeli icon Rami Levy, owner of the nation’s third largest supermarket chain, was arrested Sunday morning on fraud and breach of trust charges related to allegedly bribing a municipal official to evade paying NIS 21 million in taxes at a mall he recently constructed.
Four other unidentified suspects, including a local council head, newspaper employee, Levy’s attorney and a businessman, were also detained for questioning following a months-long undercover investigation carried out by the Israel Police’s National Fraud Unit.
While details of the investigation remain unclear due to a court-sanctioned gag order, police said all four suspects allegedly colluded to favorably change a local council’s tax policy towards Levy at the Rami Levy Hashikma Marketing shopping mall.
According to multiple reports, the local council head allegedly helped Levy procure an additional 3,000 sq. meters of space at the mall without paying the associated NIS 21m. in betterment taxes, and to receive better terms for his payments.
Upon completion of the project, when Levy was told to pay the related taxes, the unidentified council official allegedly intervened to considerably lower the bill.
In return for the savings, Levy allegedly agreed to appoint the wife of a city official as marketing director of the mall. Levy is also accused of constructing a parking lot adjacent to the mall without paying the associated costs.
Police raided the homes and offices of the council official and other suspects to seize documents related to the purported crime.
A self-made man with modest beginnings at a small shop at Jerusalem’s iconic Mahane Yehuda market, Levy is considered by many Israelis to be a Robin Hood figure for his unprecedented low prices at the supermarket chain bearing his name.
He went on to construct 34 branches throughout the country targeting low-income shoppers, and in 2015, was honored as the designated torch lighter during Israel’s Independence Day celebration.
However, despite Levi’s accomplishments, he has been repeatedly investigated by police for various forms of malfeasance over the years, including allegations of sexual harassment, his low payments to employees, and using security surveillance to eavesdrop on staff.
Following Levi’s arrest, share prices of his eponymously-named conglomerate dropped, valued aat over NIS 3b., dropped 6.5%.