Police investigators looking into suspected corruption by Likud MK David Bitan, the coalition chairman and a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, spent hours Sunday examining files in a furniture store in Rishon Lezion suspected to have been used as a front for money laundering.
The store, Metzada, is owned by Moshe Yosef, a close friend of Bitan’s, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Monday. A reporter for the newspaper was on hand when police and investigators from the Israel Tax Authority raided the store and confiscated boxes of financial records.
It was not the first time police had visited the store. According to the report, when the investigation into Bitan began, officers set up hidden cameras and recording devices in the store, and, using evidence they collected, built up a very strong case against the coalition chair.
While investigators were in the store, Bitan was questioned by police for the third time in the investigation, dubbed Case 1803, which has seen at least 25 people arrested or questioned by police, including a dozen officials from the Rishon Lezion and Tel Aviv municipalities.
Bitan is suspected of having taken bribes from crime organizations in Rishon Lezion after he became the deputy mayor of the city in 2005, and of diverting a construction tender toward the son of an acquaintance in exchange for money.
On Friday it was reported that Yosef is a key suspect in the case, allegedly having handled bribes Bitan is suspected of receiving from contractors. Police are reportedly hoping to convince Yosef to become a state’s witness in light of the large body of evidence against him. He was remanded on Monday for an additional eight days.
Staff in the furniture store told Yedioth on Sunday that Bitan would regularly visit and hold meetings in a side room with Yosef. However, they denied having any knowledge of what transpired in those meetings, and were reportedly shocked to learn their boss was a suspect.
According to the report, police footage from the hidden cameras showed Bitan counting out large sums of money, and appearing to use the store as a bank to withdraw money. The clips also allegedly showed the coalition chair warmly greeting Husam Jarushi, a member of what police consider to be one of the most powerful, and violent, of Israel’s crime families. Bitan told police during his interrogation that he didn’t know Jarushi, asserting that if he had met him it was only in passing at some political event.
For his part, Jarushi admitted he had met Bitan several times, but denied he had been involved in bribery. “They listened to us by wiretapping, but there was no recording that we bribe people,” he told Hadashot news on Sunday.
Jarushi told the news station that police had no evidence against him.
“I said to the interrogator, ‘If you have evidence that I bribed a public figure or have given money to someone, or anything else, I’ll sign what you want now,'” he said.
Bitan is suspected of taking loans from members of the Jarushi family and, when he was unable to repay them, offering favors in exchange for forgiveness of the loans. Both Bitan and Jarushi deny any wrongdoing.
Jarushi’s cousin, Adnan, head of the Waqf Islamic trust in Ramle, was also detained by police. He said that the coalition chair hadn’t discussed the debts with him.
“Bitan never mentioned to me he was in debt — why should he tell me his troubles?” he told Hadashot news.
On Monday, a Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court judge remanded for four days two other suspects in the case: real estate entrepreneur David Glazer and contractor Albert Biton.