Coalition chairman denies he may quit in wake of graft probe
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Coalition chairman denies he may quit in wake of graft probe

Netanyahu confidant David Bitan set to be questioned by police a second time in a widening corruption probe of Rishion Lezion city officials

Likud MK and coalition chairman David Bitan on December 4, 2017, after police questioning as part of a corruption investigation. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
Likud MK and coalition chairman David Bitan on December 4, 2017, after police questioning as part of a corruption investigation. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Coalition chairman David Bitan on Sunday denied reports he was considering quitting the Knesset in the wake of a police investigation into a slew of corruption allegations against him.

The Netanyahu confidant was earlier in the day questioned for a marathon 13 hours by the Lahav 433 Serious Crimes Unit on suspicion of receiving bribes, fraud, money laundering, and breach of trust when he served as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion in 2015.

Bitan is set to be questioned again on Wednesday, according to his lawyer.

After leaving the Lahav headquarters on Sunday, Bitan denied an earlier Hadashot news report that he was thinking of quitting the Knesset in light of the investigation.

“I am not considering resigning from the Knesset, I trust the law enforcement agencies and I will not discuss the investigation or attack the police,” he said.

In a statement, Bitan’s lawyer Ephraim Demari said the lawmaker “fully cooperated” with investigators during Sunday’s questioning, and would continue to do so throughout the investigation.

The interrogation on Sunday came as Bitan was working to gather support ahead of a final vote on legislation that would forbid police from issuing recommendations for indictment in corruption investigations against public figures.

The Likud party lawmaker, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is suspected of having taken bribes from crime organizations in Rishon Lezion after he became the deputy mayor of the city in 2015, and of diverting a tender toward the son of an acquaintance in return for money.

The questioning came hours after 17 Rishon Lezion city officials — among them Mayor Dov Zur — were arrested as part of a widening corruption probe into suspected bribe-taking.

Several coalition lawmakers, including prominent defenders of Netanyahu, cried foul over the timing of the revelation of a year-long graft probe surrounding Bitan.

Likud MK David Amsalem, the original author of the bill, slammed the police announcement as an attempt to topple Netanyahu.

But Israel Police spokeswoman Merav Lapidot insisted the timing of Bitan’s summoning at the Lahav 433 national crime unit was a coincidence.

“There is no connection [between the probe into Bitan] and any political or other events that occur parallel to the investigation,” Lapidot told Channel 10. “The date [for the interrogation] was set long in advance. If we’d act according to political developments, we would pollute the investigation.”

Earlier on Sunday, legislation Bitan had been pressing to pass hit a snag after lawmakers from both sides of the aisle raised objections. A scheduled Monday Knesset Internal Affairs Committee meeting, in which MKs were expected to finalize the so-called police recommendations bill, was canceled after Netanyahu asked Likud lawmakers to redraft the controversial bill so that it would exclude the investigations against him.

The implication was that it will not come to a plenum vote later Monday as initially planned.

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