Following Sunday’s arrest of 17 senior officials, the Israel Police arrested four more suspects early Monday morning in the Rishon Lezion corruption case. The case, dubbed Case 1803, involves allegations against municipality officials, businessmen, contractors and organized-crime figures.
Among the suspects is coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud), who is suspected of accepting bribes, money laundering, fraud and breach of trust. He was questioned for more than 13 hours on Sunday.
On Monday, Bitan attended Knesset meetings as usual, and he dismissed reports saying he plans to resign over the investigation.
“I never sent such a message [that I am planning to resign],” Bitan said. “I don’t know what’s the source for that.”
Bitan is suspected of receiving bribe money from an organized-crime group member to give a tender to an unnamed businessmen.
The organized-crime group member was named as Hussam Jarushi, who was one of those arrested Monday morning. Jarushi is said to have transferred money to Bitan through an associate. However, Channel 10 News reported that Bitan denies any contact with the Jarushi family.
“I never accepted bribe money nor laundered money,” Bitan was quoted as saying to his interrogators. “I don’t know the Jarushi family and never met them. People who hate me spread rumors about me.”
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Bitan’s attorney, Efraim Dimri, said his client cooperated with police and did not evade any question.
“Moreover, he told them they can ask anything that they want on any topic to remove any suspicions about him,” Dimri said.
Bitan was reportedly asked about deals that took place while he was a Knesset member and also while he was Rishon Lezion deputy mayor. The deals were allegedly done to benefit organized-crime group members and businessmen to help him erase debts to the “gray market.”
Reports said there are concerns regarding Bitan’s part in property sales in the city. He is suspected of accepting money from unidentified businessmen in return for green-lighting construction projects, including in an area called the “1,000 compound” in western Rishon Lezion.
Bitan is also suspected of advancing the licensing of a gas station in Rishon Lezion that belongs to an associate of his, Shefi Sasson, who is a Likud activist from the city and was one of the suspects who were arrested on Monday.
A senior law-enforcement official was quoted by Channel 10 News as saying, “It is the end of Bitan’s political career, and he doesn’t even know that.”
A close associate to Bitan is also a suspect in this probe, and it was reported that some NIS 2 million was found in her bank account.
The associate was questioned on both Monday and Sunday. Channel 2 News reported that she told her interrogators she knew nothing about the money that was deposited in her account.
“My husband was the one who deposited the money there,” she was quoted as saying. “I have no idea how it got there.”
“I did not go into every transaction that was made,” she added. “I trusted him and believed in him. I never suspected him then – and neither today.”
Two of Bitan’s parliamentary assistants were taken for questioning as well, Channel 2 News reported.
Bitan is expected to be questioned again by the Lahav 433 unit on Wednesday.
Also on Monday, a senior official in the Tel Aviv Municipality was arrested in conjunction with Case 1083. The official is said to be suspected of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust.
On Sunday, police arrested multiple figures in Rishon Lezion, including municipality officials, businessmen and organized-crime figures. The officials are suspected of corruption and were arrested as part of a covert operation aimed at revealing the connections between criminal elements, local municipalities and national governmental structures.
Among those arrested was Rishon Lezion Mayor Dov Zur, who is suspected of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
The questioning took place amid efforts to pass controversial legislation that Bitan is advancing to curb the police’s ability to publish its recommendation to the state prosecutor after investigations are completed.
Some politicians have raised questions over the timing of the questioning regarding Bitan’s involvement in this legislation.
Police denied launching the investigation in light of the proposed legislation, saying it was conducted covertly for over a year, and the arrests were planned more than a month before.
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