Coalition chair’s wife named as suspect in bribery probe

Hagit Bitan, whose husband David is under investigation, placed under house arrest after hours of questioning, not allowed to talk to him

Coalition whip Likud party MK David Bitan, center, arrives at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 4, 2017. (Flash90)
Coalition whip Likud party MK David Bitan, center, arrives at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 4, 2017. (Flash90)

The wife of coalition chairman MK David Bitan was named Tuesday morning as one of the suspects whom police arrested and interrogated earlier in the week, in connection with a bribery and money laundering investigation centered on her husband.

Hagit Bitan was quizzed for 10 hours on Sunday at the police’s Lahav 433 fraud squad headquarters and then released to house arrest at her sister’s home. She is suspected of money laundering. The Bitans have been told to not communicate with each other for five days, her attorney, Zadok Hugi, told Hadashot TV news.

At least 25 people have been arrested or questioned by police regarding the case, including a dozen officials from the Rishon Lezion and Tel Aviv municipalities.

Overnight Monday and Tuesday morning, four more people were arrested in the case, including a Rishon Lezion city official.

Posted by ‎חגית שלום ביטן‎ on Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Bitan, the Likud’s whip and a Knesset mover and shaker, 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, reportedly a senior member of the Jarushi crime family, in connection with the case.

During her interrogation, Hagit Bitan was asked about a sum of more than NIS 1.5 million deposited in her bank account around eight years ago. At the time, her husband’s bank account was under restrictions due to debts amounting to millions of shekels.

Bitan told police she has no idea where the money came from, and that her husband was controlling the account, reports said. She admitted to being aware there were movements in her account but insisted she trusted, and still trusts, her husband, and that neither of them had done anything illegal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with MK David Bitan during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, November 27, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Hugi, her lawyer, said she was cooperating with police and that suspicions linking her to the laundering of millions of shekels were baseless.

“This whole arrest came about to put pressure on her husband,” he told Hadashot news.

David Bitan is also maintaining his innocence. Police have said that his immunity from arrest as a Knesset member is the only thing keeping him out of jail.

On Sunday 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 business people. On the following day four others were arrested, including Jarushi.

The Jarushis, based in the Ramle area of central Israel, have long been a target of police, and are considered one of the nation’s most powerful crime families.

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

Hadashot news reported Monday 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.

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 Knesset legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, said Monday that Bitan and other lawmakers currently under police investigation may not vote on the police recommendation bill in committee due to a conflict of interest.

The bill, which has 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 police themselves.

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