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Police said Monday that six senior officials at the Defense Ministry had accepted bribes in exchange for directing valuable infrastructure contracts to private contractors.
Gavriel Shavit, the ministry's head of electricity and infrastructure planning, together with another five ministry officials - two managers and three inspectors - has admitted to accepting "gifts" in the form of free meals in expensive restaurants, elaborate gift baskets and improvements to his home.
But Shavit said the goodies were merely friendly gifts, and were not given in exchange for awarding infrastructure-related contracts to his benefactors.
A police officer close to the investigation said all the suspects "offered testimony connecting them to the offenses."
Shavit's assistant in the Electricity and Infrastructure office of the ministry's acquisitions division is one of the two managers among the suspects.
Shavit is the only suspect alleged to have accepted anything other than holiday gift baskets.
Three contractors suspected of supplying the gifts were also questioned by police and may be indicted for offering bribes to public officials.
None of the officials are responsible for awarding tenders to outside contractors, but investigators believe the contractors may have expected them to promote their companies as recipients of the lucrative contracts. In recent years, Defense Ministry building projects have included the elaborate revamping of its Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv and the planned development of an IDF "training city" in the Negev.
The investigation was kept under wraps until police felt that they had enough evidence to transfer the case to the Tel Aviv District Attorney's Office.
The case was opened following a tip-off that police received three months ago. Since then, police have been quietly questioning mid-level ministry employees.
In a statement released following the police announcement Monday, the Defense Ministry said its own investigative units opened the investigation into allegations of bribery in mid-2005. When the unit uncovered acts that were possibly criminal in nature, they turned their findings over to the police and ministry officials.
"The Defense Ministry, which is careful to maintain work ethics and appropriate management standards, considers this incident to be serious and will offer its help in any way that is necessary to confront this issue," Defense Ministry spokesmen said Monday, adding - almost as an afterthought - that "the matters concerning the workers who were investigated will be weighed in the DA's office," and not by jumping to conclusions.