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State to charge Likud MK David Bitan with bribery, fraud

Netanyahu loyalist accused of taking over $200,000 in bribes while serving in public office, both as a deputy mayor and as a Knesset member; he denies the allegations

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Likud MK David Bitan arrives for a Knesset faction meeting on June 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK David Bitan arrives for a Knesset faction meeting on June 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The State Prosecutor announced Tuesday that it will file an indictment against Likud MK David Bitan on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, as well as money laundering and tax offenses.

Bitan, a former Likud coalition whip and a confidant of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is accused of taking some NIS 715,000 ($220,000) in bribes while serving in public office. He allegedly received bribes from friends and acquaintances and gave them preferential treatment in return, according to the indictment.

The charges date back to when Bitan was deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion, before he was elected to the Knesset in 2013, but also include his tenure as an MK.

“In return for the benefits, Bitan acted to advance the interests, within the framework of his public duties, of certain parties, while exploiting his status, connections and influence in local government and government ministries,” the indictment reads.

In accordance with the Knesset Members Immunity Law, a copy of the indictment was submitted to the Knesset speaker in order to allow Bitan to announce whether he wants to request parliamentary immunity from criminal prosecution. The indictment will only be filed with a court once the immunity procedures have been completed.

Police have reportedly been investigating the case against Bitan for the past six years, and recommended last year that he be indicted on multiple corruption charges.

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

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

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 that 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)

Prosecutors said that 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.

They also said that they 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 on Tuesday repeated his denial of wrongdoing, with his lawyers releasing a statement saying that he was “confident that at the end of the legal proceedings, the court will reach the obvious conclusion that no defect or wrongdoing has occurred in his actions and will clear him of any accusation.”

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