Coalition chairman David Bitan’s political career is “finished, though he doesn’t know it yet,” a top law enforcement official told Channel 10 news on Monday, citing the breadth of evidence against the Likud MK in a newly revealed corruption probe.
The unnamed official told Channel 10 that investigators, who on Sunday questioned Bitan for 13 hours, “have yet to present him with a fraction of the material against him, and he is set for further questionings. This is a strong case.”
The source added that this was not an ambiguous case of a politician receiving illicit benefits, but grave allegations of “bribery and money laundering.”
Police detained four people for questioning Monday morning, including a senior official at the Tel Aviv municipality, in connection with the investigation.
Bitan is reportedly suspected of having received a bribe from a crime figure in return for swaying a real estate tender in his favor. On Monday, police announced that they had arrested Hossam Jarushi, a senior member of the Jarushi crime family, in connection with the case.
According to Channel 10, Bitan maintained his innocence to investigators during questioning, reportedly saying, “I have never taken a bribe or laundered money. I don’t know the Jarushi family. I’ve never met them. My enemies are spreading rumors about me. What have I got to do with a crime family?”
The developments came a day after 17 Rishon Lezion city officials were arrested or questioned as part of the widening corruption probe, known as Case 1803. Among those scooped up by police after a long investigation were Rishon Lezion Mayor Dov Zur, two parliamentary aides, contractors, and businesspeople.
Jarushi is reportedly a member of a known crime family based in the Ramle area of central Israel. The Jarushi family has long been a target of police, and is considered one of the nation’s biggest crime organizations, handling hundreds of millions of shekels a year, according to Hadashot news.
Its dealings are said to include drug trafficking, gambling dens, score-settling, racketeering, weapons dealing and money forgery. It is believed to have carried out multiple assassinations
Investigators suspect that Hossam Jarushi covered Bitan’s debts in return for receiving the contract to carry out earthworks for the so-called “Mit’ham 1000” real estate project, a 1,000 dunam (250 acre) development project that is also tied to Bitan. According to Haaretz, police also suspect Jarushi gave other financial assistance to Bitan.
Hadashot news reported that Bitan, when serving as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion, accrued debts of some NIS 16 million ($4.6 million), leading to restrictions on his bank account. Bitan, who served in the post between 2005 and 2015, is suspected of paying back the money within two years through crooked deals. He is also suspected of receiving gifts and bribes after becoming a member of Knesset in 2015, the report said.
On Sunday, the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extended Jarushi’s arrest by three days. Bitan, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was questioned on Sunday for a marathon 13 hours by the Lahav 433 Serious Crimes Unit on suspicion of receiving bribes, fraud, money laundering, and breach of trust. He is to be interrogated again on Wednesday.
Investigators have reportedly gathered considerable evidence including documents, recordings, and video footage. One of the suspects in the case has also apparently agreed to work with police and provide evidence against the other suspects. The Walla news site reported Monday that police are also seeking to convince another of the suspects to become a state witness.
Zur, the mayor, is suspected of bribery, fraud, breach of trust and promoting certain construction projects in the city together with contractors. His remand was extended Sunday for five days. The arrest of a Rishon Lezion businessman, who is a central figure in the investigation but whose name has not been cleared for publication, was extended by 12 days. Police sources were quoted in Israeli media on Sunday as saying that if Bitan were not a Knesset member and protected by immunity, he would also be under arrest.
The probe broke open just as Bitan, a key Netanyahu ally, was working to gather the votes for the final vote Monday on a bill that would forbid police from issuing recommendations about indictments when they conclude an investigation into a high-profile personage.
The bill, which has now been withdrawn for the time being, is seen by critics as designed to protect Netanyahu from his multiple fraud investigations. It is opposed by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, and the police themselves.