Businessman Arrested as Bribery Case Against Lawyer Ronel Fisher Widens

The head of a construction firm is detained in a case that also impugns a former Tel Aviv chief prosecutor.

Yasmin Gueta
Jasmin Gueta
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Construction firm chief Yair Biton in court in 2014.
Construction firm chief Yair Biton in court in 2014.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Yasmin Gueta
Jasmin Gueta

The owner of a construction firm has been ordered detained for four days on suspicion that he bribed attorney Ronel Fisher to receive information about a covert police investigation into him more than a year ago.

The owner of the B. Yair construction company, Yair Biton, was arrested Sunday upon returning from abroad. Biton, who was ordered detained by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, is also suspected of facilitating a bribe.

The covert investigation — which was made public in May 2014 when Biton first was arrested — was into suspicions that the company had transferred 60 million shekels ($15.5 million) to the Yitzhak Abergil crime family to help the Abergils launder money.

The Justice Ministry unit for investigating police officers suspects that Biton knew about the investigation against him because Fisher and his law partner, former Tel Aviv chief prosecutor Ruth David, had allegedly told him about it. The two allegedly flew abroad to meet Biton and give him documents from the investigation.

David has admitted that she gave a sealed envelope to Biton when abroad, but that she had no idea what it contained. David was arrested last week on suspicion she was involved in Fisher’s brokering of bribes from clients to police officers to obtain information, or to close cases against them.

Judge Joya Skappa-Shapiro, who ordered Biton detained, said that while the investigation had begun several months ago, evidence now provided a reasonable suspicion that Biton had both obstructed justice and facilitated bribery.

Six months ago the police recommended that Biton be prosecuted on suspicion of transferring funds to Abergil; they also recommended that Abergil be charged, along with two subcontractors of B. Yair, Shimon Balulu and Nissim Pines. Balulu and Pines, who were working on a B. Yair project in Eilat, are suspected of serving as Biton’s channel for transferring funds to Abergil.

The suspicions of facilitating a bribe relate to a conversation Biton allegedly had with Kobi Kahlon, a Jerusalem deputy mayor and brother of Finance Minister-designate Moshe Kahlon.

During that conversation, Biton allegedly told Kahlon that a covert investigation was being conducted against him, but that he could pay a bribe through “a lawyer he knew” to get the case closed. Kahlon immediately told the police that he had become aware of the investigation against him.

Biton’s attorneys, Assaf Golan and Eytan Peleg, argued that Biton had already been arrested and questioned about facilitating a bribe for Kahlon and was released without even being remanded in custody.

As to the suspicions of obstructing justice, Biton’s lawyers argued that there was no reason for Biton to pay bribes for information, since there was a restraining order against him leaving the country at the time, so that “any child could understand” that he was under investigation for something.

According to the lawyers, Biton was just abroad and this latest case broke out 10 days ago.

“If he wanted to disrupt [the investigation] he could have done so 50 times,” Biton’s legal team said. “He has nothing to disrupt; he has no one to disrupt with. There’s a state’s witness, there’s attorney David, there’s attorney Fisher — all are being questioned and some are in custody.”

The attorneys also addressed the principle of lawyer-client confidentiality that governs the relationship between Biton, Fisher and David. They said they had ordered their client not to answer questions about his relationship with them.

“We’ve instructed Biton to say — and this is what he has said, to the best of our knowledge — that if there is any question to which his questioners believe attorney-client privilege does not apply, we will come and tell him that he can answer the question, and he’ll answer,” Biton’s legal team said.

“The suspect is not a lawyer and doesn’t understand these things; the sweeping instruction we gave him is not only to protect his rights, but also to protect the rule of law, since protection of information exchanged between a lawyer and his client is a mainstay of the rule of law.”

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