Police recommend bribery charges for Likud’s David Bitan

After 2-year investigation, anti-corruption unit says it has evidence that ex-coalition whip and Netanyahu confidant traded political favors for cash payouts

Likud MK David Bitan attends a meeting of the Central Elections Committee at the Knesset on March 5, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Likud MK David Bitan attends a meeting of the Central Elections Committee at the Knesset on March 5, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Police on Thursday recommended that Likud MK and former coalition chairman David Bitan be indicted on multiple corruption charges including bribery, fraud and money laundering.

In a statement, police said their two-year investigation has yielded sufficient evidence to charge the key ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with accepting money in exchange for political favors while he served as MK and as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion.

Bitan is 24th on the Likud party’s list for April’s elections, and with the ruling party projected to win around 30 seats, he is expected to keep his Knesset seat.

Bitan, 58, stepped down from his role as coalition whip in 2017 after police announced they were investigating him for corruption. He has remained in the Knesset as a Likud lawmaker.

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

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.

Rishon Lezion Mayor Dov Zur arrives for extension of his remand at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, December 7, 2017. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)

In the Thursday statement, police said investigators from its Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit interviewed over 300 witnesses, searched dozens of locations across Israel, and examined some 700 pages in documents seized from Bitan.

Police said 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.

The statement 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 ($119,000) 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.

Metzada furniture store in Rishon Lezion, suspected of being used to launder money on behalf of MK David Bitan. (Screen capture: Google Maps)

Lahav investigators also said they uncovered evidence that Bitan and Giladi accepted a bribe of NIS 385,000 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.

After the police recommendations were publicized on Thursday, Bitan’s lawyer said in a statement he was confident the case against his client would be closed at an upcoming court hearing.

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