Four suspects were detained Sunday and taken in for questioning under caution for their suspected involvement in a corruption affair encompassing officials from the Rishon Lezion and Tel Aviv municipalities as well as former coalition whip David Bitan.
The new suspects, among whom are a deputy mayor of Tel Aviv and an activist for the ruling Likud party, were taken to the Lod headquarters of the police anti-corruption unit Lahav 433. They are suspected of involvement in bribery, money laundering and tax offenses in the probe, known as Case 1803.
The fresh arrests are due to information provided by two witnesses, Dror Glazer and Moshe Yosef, Hebrew-language media reported.
One of the detainees is Arnon Giladi, deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, who has previously been questioned in the probe. Giladi, 59, chairs the Tel Aviv branch of the Likud party as well as the Dan Region Association of Towns for Sewage and Environmental Issues (“Igudan”).
Two other suspects were described as contractors, and the fourth is a lobbyist and Likud activist. Police said it was conducting searches in their homes.
The suspects are connected to three housing projects in Tel Aviv in which corruption is alleged.
David Bitan, a former deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion and current lawmaker with close ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stepped down as coalition whip over his suspected involvement in the case. He has been questioned six times by police interrogators, including last week, but remained silent during the last three sessions.
In December, some 20 employees of the Rishon Lezion municipality were arrested as part of the probe, including mayor Dov Zur. Among those scooped up by police after a long investigation were also two parliamentary aides, contractors and businesspeople.
Investigators reportedly hold specific information on how the suspected bribes and money transfers were handled, after receiving testimony from Yosef, a furniture store owner who is said to be in talks to turn state witness.
In a major development over the past month Yosef gave detailed testimony, telling investigators that the bribes were frequent, including during the past five years, the report said. Yosef told investigators that he had delivered hundreds of thousands of shekels to Bitan during visits the Likud lawmaker made to Yosef’s Metzada furniture store in Rishon Lezion.
Yosef is thought to have acted as the go-between for Bitan and the businesspeople, handing over money and keeping a percentage for himself, apparently as payment for large loans he gave to Bitan at a time when Bitan was heavily in debt. Police have dubbed him Bitan’s “banker.”
Yosef claims he wasn’t always aware of what Bitan was offering the businesspeople in return for the cash. He has also described keeping careful track of what was going on and how much of Bitan’s debt was paid back. In a police raid on his furniture shop, they found his bookkeeping notes, Haaretz reported.
Initial suspicion pointed to Bitan having received extensive bribes while serving as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion. However, Yosef’s testimony has indicated that payments continued after Bitan became a Knesset member in 2015, the Haaretz daily reported in January.
Investigators suspect that Bitan pushed for an amendment to the Planning and Building Law two months ago that would have benefited Glazer, a real estate developer, Channel 10 news reported in December. According to the report, Glazer is suspected of having transferred NIS 150,000 ($43,000) to Yosef in exchange for Bitan, then the coalition whip, attempting to advance the legislation.
A third figure arrested in the case, whose identity was revealed earlier this month, is Ronen Ginzburg, the CEO of Danya Cebus, a construction company with numerous projects in Rishon Lezion. Ginzburg is suspected of bribery, money laundering and tax evasion and of transferring NIS 300,000 ($87,000) to Bitan, via Yosef.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.