AG announces indictment against Likud MK David Bitan, pending hearing
PM had intended to appoint him agriculture minister

AG announces indictment against Likud MK David Bitan, pending hearing

Avichai Mandelblit says he will pursue charges of bribery, money laundering, fraud and breach of trust against Netanyahu loyalist

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Likud MK David Bitan at a Likud party rally in Tel Aviv, on November 17, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)
Likud MK David Bitan at a Likud party rally in Tel Aviv, on November 17, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced on Sunday that he will file an indictment, pending a hearing, against senior Likud MK David Bitan for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, as well as money laundering and tax offenses.

Bitan is accused of receiving NIS 992,000 ($287,000) in bribes while serving as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion and as a Knesset member.

Ephraim Dimri, a lawyer representing Bitan, dismissed the charges, saying they would be dropped in the pre-indictment hearing.

“From an initial look at the material, there won’t be a need to ask for immunity because most of the clauses will turn out to be nothing during the hearing,” Dimri told Radio 103FM.

Police recommended last year that Bitan be indicted on multiple corruption charges including bribery, fraud and money laundering over allegations he accepted money in exchange for political favors.

While he has denied wrongdoing, Bitan stepped down from his role as coalition whip in 2017 shortly after news of the police investigation broke.

Rishon Lezion Mayor Dov Zur arrives for extension of his remand at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, December 7, 2017. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)

He is accused of receiving bribes from his business associate Moshe Yosef and from businessman Dror Glazer, both while serving as deputy mayor of Israel’s fourth-largest city, and, later as a member of Knesset. Both men have testified against him.

Former deputy Tel Aviv mayor Arnon Giladi and then-Rishon Lezion mayor Dov Zur are also suspects in the alleged bribe-taking scheme that took place between 2011 and 2017.

Police said last year they had obtained detailed information on how the suspected bribes and money transfers were handled, in light of the testimony from Yosef, who owns a furniture store where Bitan was allegedly given the money.

Arnon Giladi, Tel Aviv’s deputy mayor and chairman of the city’s Likud branch. (Courtesy Arnon Giladi)

The attorney general said Bitan advanced the interests of construction company Danya Cebus by approving real estate deals in Rishon Lezion in exchange for a NIS 430,000 ($124,000) cash payment. The sum paid to Bitan was to secure Danya Cebus’s bid to win a municipal tender to build a gas station on the outskirts of the city as well as approval for another construction project outside Jerusalem on Route 38.

Mandelblit also said they uncovered evidence that Bitan and Giladi accepted a bribe of NIS 385,000 ($111,000) to secure building permits for three real estate projects in Tel Aviv. Police said some of the bribe money was transferred to Bitan using fake invoices.

The investigation, dubbed Case 1803, has seen the arrests of a number of suspects, including Rishon Lezion city officials, local businessmen, and organized crime figures.

Bitan has denied any wrongdoing.

Earlier this month, Bitan announced he was backing away from his nomination as agriculture minister after an upcoming vote to approve a number of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ministerial selections was delayed indefinitely following a High Court of Justice ruling.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MK David Bitan at a Likud party rally in Tel Aviv on August 9, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The court had indicated there were limits on a transition government’s ability to name new ministers. Netanyahu had nominated three lawmakers to become ministers after being forced to drop all his cabinet posts due to criminal charges against him.

Israel has had a transition government since December 2018, when the Knesset voted to dissolve and go to early elections. A third round of elections will be held March 2, after the previous two failed to result in a government, a first in Israeli history.

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