Coalition whip faces third police interrogation Sunday

Likud MK David Bitan is suspected of graft in a wide-reaching corruption case that has been tied to dozens of city officials

Coalition chairman Likud party MK David Bitan speaks to media in the Knesset, December 5, 2017. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Coalition chairman Likud party MK David Bitan speaks to media in the Knesset, December 5, 2017. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK David Bitan, the coalition chairman, arrived Sunday at the Israel Police’s Lahav 433 national crime headquarter to face further questions amid suspicions of receiving bribes, fraud, money laundering and breach of trust.

It was the third time the Likud party’s Bitan, 57, was questioned by police in a wide-reaching corruption scandal that has been tied to dozens of city officials from the Rishon Lezion and the Tel Aviv municipalities, as well as local businesspeople and underworld figures.

Police are reportedly in possession of an incriminating recording of Bitan in which he can be heard counting money with his associate Moshe Yosef, a businessman from Rishon Lezion who was arrested earlier this week in connection with the investigation, Hadashot TV news reported on Friday.

According to the report, Yosef is a key suspect in the case and allegedly handled the bribes Bitan is suspected of receiving from contractors in exchange for granting tenders while serving as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion.

The recording was made by a device installed by police in Yosef’s furniture store in the city. Police are hoping to convince Yosef to become a state’s witness against other suspects in light of the large body of evidence against him, the report said.

Bitan, who maintains his innocence, petitioned the court on Tuesday with a request that he be permitted to give interviews to counter what he described as biased police leaks to the media.

Husam Jarushi, a reported mobster linked to suspected wrongdoing by Likud MK David Bitan, in court on December 4, 2017 (screen capture: Hadashot)

On Tuesday, it was revealed that Bitan’s wife, Hagit, had been grilled for 10 hours on Sunday over the suspected money laundering and then released to house arrest at her sister’s home. During her interrogation, she was asked about a sum of more than NIS 1.5 million (roughly $430,000) 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 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 Husam Jarushi, a senior member of the Jarushi crime family, in connection with the case.

The investigation was revealed last week when some 20 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.

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