Friday, October 23, 2020

Israeli Prime Minister associate David Bitan indicted for bribery

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Bitan allegedly accepted hundreds of thousands of shekels when he was the vice mayor of Rishon Letzion in exchange for promoting the business interests of various powerful businessmen.

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit notified former coalition chairman David Bitan of the Likud on Sunday that he will likely indict him for bribery, money laundering, fraud, breach of trust and tax offenses, subject to a hearing.

Bitan denies all of the charges, and his pre-indictment hearing before Mandelblit is expected to take place in April.

Mandelblit’s statement alleged that Bitan received around NIS 990,000 in bribes, along with an unknown value of ownership rights in real estate between 2011-2017.

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The period, which includes nine different alleged criminal instances, covers both his term as Rishon Lezion deputy mayor and as a Knesset MK.

In the police recommendation to indict him in March 2019, there were 12 separate instances, such that Mandelblit accepted some, but not all, of the police charges against Bitan.

Only a few weeks ago, Bitan was on the verge of his dream of receiving a ministerial portfolio from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but various signals that Mandelblit was close to an indictment thwarted the plans.

Bitan’s defense could be complicated by his general insistence during questioning by police to maintain silence.

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Although suspects have a right to remain silent, courts will often view that silence as a sign that the suspects did not have a defense.
In exchange for the mentioned alleged bribes, Mandelblit’s statement said that Bitan acted to promote the interests of those giving the bribes, including Danya Cebus Ltd., a food department chain, real estate developers and contractors.

Though Bitan has remained an MK, he stepped down as coalition chairman in 2017 when it became apparent that the criminal investigation into his activities was not going to blow over quickly and could distract from Netanyahu’s agenda.

The criminal investigation became officially public in December 2017.

According to the police statement in March, sufficient evidence had been found on dozens of other suspects as well.

The state prosecution said that it was also intending to indict deputy Tel Aviv mayor Arnon Giladi, subject to a hearing and around 19 other suspects.

The affair, which was investigated by Lahav 433, the National Fraud Squad, has been dubbed “File 1803.”

In its March statement, police said that it interrogated over 300 witnesses, 80 of which were questioned as suspects, searched dozens of locations across the country, and seized around 700 files of documents.

Between 2013-2015, Bitan allegedly advanced the interests of construction company Danya Cebus, run by Ronen Ginzburg, by approving real estate deals in Rishon Lezion and with the Transportation Ministry in exchange for around NIS 513,000.

The bribe was paid to Bitan 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, Bitan and Giladi allegedly accepted a bribe of NIS 385,000 to obtain approvals for three real estate projects in Tel Aviv. Some of the bribery funds were transferred to Bitan using fake invoices, according to the charges.

Some of the investors and others involved in allegedly paying bribes are referred to as D.G., M.S., M.Y., Beni Solimani, Eli Nahum, Albert Bitan, Yitzhak Jedah, and one scheme is referred to as “half-free.”

According to the charges, 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.

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“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 said in March.

The police statement continued, “In return, MK Bitan exercised his authority, influence, 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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