Police arrest five more in municipal corruption case

Coalition chair's wife named as close relative suspected.

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)
Police investigation into Rishon Lezion’s corruption has broadened, as four more suspects were arrested Tuesday morning, and one more overnight. It was also revealed that the close relative of coalition chairman MK David Bitan (Likud) who was questioned on Sunday and Monday was his wife, Hagit Bitan.
Some NIS 2 million were found in Hagit Bitan’s bank account. Channel 2 News reported on Monday that Bitan said in questioning that she did not know how the money got to 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 – nor do I today.”
During the questioning, police interrogators presented Bitan with documents from eight years ago when the money was deposited.
This comes after two rounds of arrests in Case 1803 - five were arrested on Monday, and 17 on Sunday.
David Bitan, who was questioned on Sunday for over 14 hours, is suspected of receiving bribes 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 bribes 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."
Bitan was reportedly asked in questioning about deals that took place while he was a Knesset member and also while he was Rishon Lezion deputy mayor. The deals were allegedly made to benefit organized-crime group members and businessmen to help Bitan erase debts to these criminal entities.
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 arrested on Monday.
Bitan is expected to be questioned again by the Lahav 433 unit on Wednesday.
Another central figure in the case was named on Tuesday as Moshe Yoessef, a Rishon Lezion businessman, who allegedly mediated between the Jarushi family and municipality officials.
Also on Monday, a senior official in the Tel Aviv Municipality was arrested in conjunction with Case 1803. 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 for legal action 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.