Mandelblit okays delay in providing probe materials in case against PM loyalist

Mandelblit okays delay in providing probe materials in case against PM loyalist

In accordance with request by David Bitan, an MK accused of bribery, money laundering and fraud, documents to be given after election to avoid possible leak affecting vote

Likud MK David Bitan at the Knesset on January 15, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussil/Flash90)
Likud MK David Bitan at the Knesset on January 15, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussil/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Sunday announced that he would not hand over the full investigation materials in the corruption case against a loyalist of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu until after the March 2 elections.

Mandelblit announced last month that he would file an indictment, pending a hearing, against senior Likud MK David Bitan for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, as well as money laundering and tax offenses.

Bitan is accused of receiving NIS 992,000 ($287,000) in bribes while serving as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion and as a Knesset member.

Bitan requested that the documents detailing the full investigation material in the case only be handed to the defense after the election, to avoid them being leaked to the media and possibly affecting the outcome of the vote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MK David Bitan at a Likud party rally in Tel Aviv on August 9, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A letter by Mandelblit on Sunday to Bitan’s lawyers said that after deliberations, “the attorney general has decided to delay the handing over of the investigation material in the case to all the suspects until [after] the date of the elections.”

He said the material would be available to pick up starting March 3 at the State Prosecutor’s Office.

Mandelblit also said Bitan’s pre-indictment hearing would be held by June 2.

Police recommended last year that Bitan be indicted on multiple corruption charges including bribery, fraud and money laundering over allegations he accepted money in exchange for political favors.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a Knesset House Committee debate on Likud MK Haim Katz’s request for parliamentary immunity, February 4, 2020. (Adina Veldman/Knesset)

While he has denied wrongdoing, Bitan stepped down from his role as coalition whip in 2017 shortly after news of the police investigation broke.

Last month he announced he was stepping away from his nomination as agriculture minister after a vote to approve a number of Netanyahu’s ministerial selections was delayed indefinitely following a ruling from Israel’s top court questioning the authority of a transition government to make cabinet appointments.

He is accused of receiving bribes from his business associate Moshe Yosef and from businessman Dror Glazer, both while serving as deputy mayor of Israel’s fourth-largest city, and, later as a member of Knesset. Both men have testified against him.

Former deputy Tel Aviv mayor Arnon Giladi and then-Rishon Lezion mayor Dov Zur are also suspects in the alleged bribe-taking scheme that took place between 2011 and 2017.

Police said last year they had obtained detailed information on how the suspected bribes and money transfers were handled, in light of the testimony from Yosef, who owns a furniture store where Bitan was allegedly given the money.

Arnon Giladi, Tel Aviv’s deputy mayor and chairman of the city’s Likud branch. (Courtesy Arnon Giladi)

The attorney general said Bitan advanced the interests of construction company Danya Cebus by approving real estate deals in Rishon Lezion in exchange for a NIS 430,000 ($124,000) cash payment. The sum paid to Bitan was to secure Danya Cebus’s bid to win a municipal tender to build a gas station on the outskirts of the city as well as approval for another construction project outside Jerusalem on Route 38.

Mandelblit also said police uncovered evidence that Bitan and Giladi accepted a bribe of NIS 385,000 ($111,000) to secure building permits for three real estate projects in Tel Aviv. Police said some of the bribe money was transferred to Bitan using fake invoices.

The investigation, dubbed Case 1803, has seen the arrests of a number of suspects, including Rishon Lezion city officials, local businessmen, and organized crime figures.

Bitan has denied any wrongdoing.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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