Rishon Lezion mayor, accused in widespread corruption probe, to return to office

Dov Zur was arrested and suspended over alleged bribery involving former coalition whip David Bitan

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

The mayor of Israel’s fourth-largest city, who was arrested last month in a widespread corruption investigation, will be allowed to resume his position but will face strict limitations on dealing with matters connected to the probe, Hebrew media reported Monday.

Rishon Lezion Mayor Dov Zur was immediately suspended from office for 45 days when he was arrested in early December for alleged involvement in a bribery case involving Likud MK David Bitan and senior figures in the Rishon Lezion and Tel Aviv municipalities.

Zur is suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust for promoting certain construction projects in the city together with contractors.

The headquarters of the Israel Police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit in Lod. (Flash90)

According to the agreement reached Monday by Zur’s lawyers and the police fraud investigation unit, Zur will be banned from meetings of the local housing and construction committee and tender board. He won’t be allowed to participate in discussions of the municipality’s real estate development company, or any discussion related to those involved in the corruption case.

The limitations are to remain in place until April 24.

“The mayor’s return to the municipality to continue his important public activity should be welcomed,” said a statement from Zur’s attorneys. “All the mayor’s actions were done to benefit the city and its residents, and we are convinced that the investigation will yield similar conclusions.”

In December, Zur was among some 20 employees of the Rishon Lezion municipality arrested as part of the probe, known as Case 1803. Among those scooped up by police after a long investigation were also two parliamentary aides, contractors and businesspeople.

Likud MK David Bitan leaves his home en route to an interrogation at the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit’s headquarters in Lod, January 4, 2018 (Flash90)

David Bitan, a former deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion and current lawmaker with close ties to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stepped down as coalition whip over his involvement in the case. He has been questioned six times by police interrogators, including on Sunday, but remained silent during the last three sessions and refused to answer questions.

Investigators reportedly hold specific information on how the suspected bribes and money transfers were handled, after receiving testimony from furniture store owner Moshe Yosef, a key suspect in the case who is said to be in talks to turn state witness.

Whereas the initial suspicion was that Bitan had received most of the bribes while serving as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion, Yosef’s testimony has indicated that payments continued after Bitan became a Knesset member in 2015, the Haaretz daily reported on Thursday.

In a major development over the past three weeks Yosef gave detailed testimony, telling investigators that the bribes were frequent, including during the past five years, the report said. Yosef told investigators that he had delivered hundreds of thousands of shekels to Bitan during visits the Likud lawmaker made to Yosef’s Metzada furniture store in Rishon Lezion.

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