Coalition chairman David Bitan.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel Police recommended on Thursday that the prosecution indict MK and former coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) for bribery, money laundering, fraud, breach of trust and tax offenses.
Bitan is alleged to have received hundreds of thousands of shekels and a promise to receive apartments as bribes from 2011 to 2017 cover both his term as Rishon Lezion deputy mayor and as a member of Knesset.
In exchange for the bribes, Bitan allegedly acted to promote the interests of those giving the bribes, including Danya Cebus Ltd., a food department chain, and real estate developers and contractors.
The case now passes over to the state prosecution, which will then make its own recommendations to State Attorney Shai Nitzan and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, who will make the final decision on a criminal indictment. That process likely will take several months or longer, meaning Bitan could be indicted in the middle of his new term in the Knesset. Bitan is No. 24 on the Likud Party’s list, and is likely to be reelected.
Though Bitan has remained an Knesset member, he stepped down as coalition chairman in 2017 when it became apparent that the criminal investigation was not going to blow over quickly and could distract from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agenda.
The criminal investigation became public in December 2017.
According to the police, sufficient evidence has been found on dozens of other suspects, including former Rishon Lezion mayor Dov Zur, Likud activist and Deputy Tel Aviv Mayor Arnon Giladi, and CEO of Danya Cebus Ltd. Ronen Ginsburg.
The Bitan affair, which was investigated by Lahav 433 (the National Crime Unit), has been dubbed “File 1803.”
In its statement, the police said that it interrogated more than 300 witnesses, 80 of whom were questioned as suspects, searched dozens of locations across the country, and seized some 700 documents.
The statement said Bitan advanced the interests of construction company Danya Cebus, run by Ginsberg, by approving real-estate deals in Rishon Lezion and with the Transportation Ministry in exchange for NIS 430,000.
The bribe was paid to him to obtain rights to build a gas station on the city’s border near Route 431, as well as approval for another project on Route 38.
In addition, the police said they found evidence that Bitan and Giladi accepted a bribe of NIS 385,000 to obtain approvals for three real estate projects in Tel Aviv. Some of the bribes were transferred to Bitan using fake invoices, said the police.
According to the police, Bitan, Zur and Giladi organized Knesset and local meetings on behalf of those bribing them, smoothed over needed approvals, and ensured that certain tax obligations were reduced.
“The findings of the investigation revealed that MK Bitan, in the framework of his various public functions, both during the period when he was deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion and during the period in which he served as a Knesset member, received bribes in cash that cost hundreds of thousands of shekels, as well as a promise to receive apartments,” the police stated.
The police statement continued: “In return, MK Bitan exercised his authority, power and connections on various issues, and used his influence to change legal decisions, grant permits of various kinds and reduce municipal payments.”
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