Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud MK David Bitan..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The new investigation into allegations against coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) could prevent the controversial police recommendations bill from having a majority in Knesset in a final vote scheduled for Monday.
Coalition chairman David Bitan after being questioned by police in suspicion of corruption while serving as Mayor of Rishon Lezion, December 3, 2017. (Avshalom Shoshani)
Bitan was questioned by police’s Lahav 433 unit Sunday in relation to a covert operation uncovering connections between criminal elements and officials in the central city of Rishon Lezion, where he was deputy mayor before entering the Knesset.
The public confirmation of the investigation, which was reported in the media in recent months, came a day before the scheduled final vote on legislation that would limit the police’s ability to make recommendations to the state prosecution, which Bitan has actively backed. The bill’s opponents see it as a way to protect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from indictment.
Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen-Paran wrote a letter to Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon, asking that he examine whether Bitan could participate in the legislative process – both by voting and whipping coalition votes - in light of a possible conflict of interest. Last week, Yinon said Netanyahu and Labor and Welfare Minister Yisrael Katz could not vote on the bill because of ongoing investigations against them into allegations of corruption.
The decision as to whether Bitan may participate or not could be a decisive factor in whether the coalition has a majority for the bill.
Although most of Kulanu voted in favor of the bill in a first reading last week, with MK Rachel Azaria absenting herself from the vote, two more lawmakers have joined her in her opposition to it, and the party has asked for its implementation to be delayed by several months so it won’t apply to Netanyahu.
Kulanu MK Merav Ben-Ari tweeted that, “After thinking for a long time, I thank my party leader Moshe Kahlon for the freedom of parliamentary action… the time has come to take care of when the bill goes into effect, so that it doesn’t even look like a personal law… That is my condition for supporting the bill.”
In addition, Likud MK Bennie Begin skipped the vote, Netanyahu and Katz are not allowed to participate
and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan may absent himself as he did last week because he is the minister responsible for the police.
The latest draft of the police recommendations bill bars the police from making recommendations to the attorney-general as to whether to indict or not at the end of the highest-profile investigations. However, the attorney-general may ask for police recommendations in investigations that have already begun. The bill would also make those leaking contents of a police investigation liable for a prison sentence of up to a year.
Knesset Interior Committee chairman David Amsalem (Likud), who proposed the police recommendations bill, said the timing of the announcement the day before the final vote was suspicious. He called it "a very serious thing," and posited that "someone is trying to torpedo the legislation."
"There is a great army here, including all the political and media fronts, working to bring [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu down," Amsalem argued at the opening of a committee meeting on the bill. "The police has to investigate every complaint that reaches them, but what would have happened if they would have investigated Bitan in two days?"
Amsalem was the only coalition MK attending the final committee meeting on the bill when it started Sunday, reflecting widening unease among lawmakers.
The opposition, meanwhile, showed up in full force in an attempt to block the bill, submitting hundreds of objections and proposed changes that would have to be voted on, and would take hours to get through.
Police also arrested 17 senior officials in the Rishon Lezion municipality on Sunday, in connection to the same case in which Bitan was questioned. The allegations against Bitan are still unclear, though media reports have said they involve property sales in the city.
Police said in a statement Sunday that this investigation is into “the actions of criminal factors,” but did not specify exactly who they are.Udi Shaham contributed to this report.
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