Police suspect former coalition chairman David Bitan accepted hundreds of thousands of shekels in bribes from the Danya Cebus construction company and the Hetzi Hinam supermarket chain while serving as a top Rishon Lezion official, TV reports said Tuesday, as the graft probe into the top Likud lawmaker widened.
According to Hadashot news, the new suspicions arose from the Tuesday testimony of businessman Moshe Yosef, a key suspect and possible future state witness in the case.
The television report said Bitan allegedly received NIS 300,000 ($86,000) from the construction company. It quoted Danya Cebus as saying it was not aware it was under police investigation.
The Channel 10 report named the Hetzi Hinam supermarket chain as the second company thought to have bribed Bitan. During his tenure as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion, Bitan received hundreds of thousands of shekels in exchange for reducing property taxes for the supermarkets, the television report said, without providing a specific sum.
Bitan received bribes to the tune of NIS 5 million overall, Yosef alleged during his questioning, according to Channel 10.
Furniture store owner Yosef was questioned at the Lod headquarters of the Israel Police’s national fraud and major crimes unit Lahav 433.
While reportedly incriminating Bitan in these cases, Yosef’s testimony also corroborated the Likud MK’s account on other allegations relating to payments for his son’s wedding and his ties to the Jarushi crime family, Channel 10 said.
Bitan is suspected of taking loans from members of the Jarushi crime family and, when he was unable to repay them, offering favors in exchange for forgiveness of the loans.
Last week it was reported the state was attempting to convince Yosef to testify against the lawmaker, but he was reluctant to testify directly against Bitan or the Jarushi family, Hadashot news said Monday.
Channel 10 news reported on Sunday that police suspect 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 his 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.
Police are reportedly trying to convince Dror Glazer, a second 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 while carrying an envelope investigators believe was stuffed with cash.