Police arrested a major real estate developer Wednesday morning in connection with an increasingly widening corruption investigation centering around Likud MK David Bitan and senior Rishon Lezion city officials.
The suspect, a CEO of a construction company with numerous projects in the central Israeli city, was being questioned at the Lod headquarters of the Israel Police’s national fraud and major crimes unit, Lahav 433. He is suspected of bribery, money laundering and tax evasion, police said in a statement.
His identity and details about his company were placed under a gag order, which will be reviewed Wednesday afternoon at a remand hearing in the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court.
According to TV reports Tuesday, police suspect Bitan accepted hundreds of thousands of shekels in bribes from the Danya Cebus construction company and the Hetzi Hinam supermarket chain while serving as Rishon Lezion’s deputy mayor.
The latest suspicions arose from the Tuesday testimony of businessman Moshe Yosef, a key suspect and possible future state witness in the case. Yosef reportedly told police that Bitan received bribes to the tune of NIS 5 million in total.
Based on that testimony, police suspect that Bitan received NIS 300,000 ($86,000) from Danya Cebus, a subsidiary of Africa Israel Investments Ltd., Hadashot TV news reported.
Responding to the reports, Africa Israel released a statement Wednesday morning, with the opening of trading on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, confirming the involvement of Danya Cebus in the police investigation.
“The company is informing investors that, according to the best of our knowledge, police are investigating Rishon Lezion projects involving Danya Cebus,” the no-frills statement said.
During his tenure as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion, police suspect, Bitan also received hundreds of thousands of shekels from the Hetzi Hinam supermarket chain in exchange for reducing property taxes on the supermarkets, Channel 10 reported, without providing a specific sum.
Bitan is suspected of taking loans from numerous businessmen as well as members of the Jarushi crime family and, when he was unable to repay them, offering favors in exchange for forgiveness of the loans. Police are investigating whether the bribery schemes may have continued even after Bitan entered the Knesset in 2015 and was appointed coalition whip.
Bitan, who has already been questioned four times by police, is reportedly set to be questioned again on Thursday.
During a five-hour interrogation by police last week, the lawmaker refused to answer nearly all of the questions. It was unclear whether he would also remain silent during the next round of interrogation.
The investigation, dubbed by police Case 1803, has seen the arrests of a number of suspects, including Rishon Lezion’s mayor and other city officials, local businessmen, and organized crime figures. Bitan stepped down as coalition whip shortly after news of the investigation broke.
In addition to Yosef, police are reportedly trying to convince Dror Glazer, an associate of Bitan’s, to turn state witness. Glazer, a real estate developer, is suspected of having transferred NIS 150,000 ($43,000) to Bitan via Yosef.
Police have examined files at Yosef’s furniture store, which investigators believe was used as a front for money laundering.
When the probe into Bitan began, officers set up hidden cameras and recording devices in the store, and, based on the evidence they collected, built up a strong case against him, according to leaks from the investigation.
Police footage from the cameras reportedly showed Bitan counting large sums of money and appearing to use the store as a bank to withdraw cash. Officers were also said to have secretly filmed Bitan’s wife leaving Yosef’s store
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.