Knesset member and former government coalition whip David Bitan was interrogated by the police for a fourth time on Sunday on suspicion of taking bribes, money laundering and breach of trust relating to a period when he was deputy mayor of the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Letzion.
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This was Bitan’s first interrogation since he resigned as coalition whip last week. Investigators were expected to ask Bitan about the sources of funding used to pay for his daughter’s wedding in August. While he was a municipal official, Bitan was faced with major debt after taking out gray-market loans from non-bank lenders.
Bitan’s wife, Hagit, was also questioned in the case on Sunday, for a third time, on suspicion that she was involved in money laundering, and she too was expected to be asked out how the couple’s daughter’s wedding was paid for.
In prior questioning, she was asked to explain transfers of 1.5 million shekels ($430,000) in funds into her bank account. Investigators suspect that the money was meant for her husband. She denied that the funds were bribe money and said she did not manage the account.
The couple was also questioned about suspicions that some of the wedding gifts – thousands of shekels in cash – were just a means to cover up bribes from some of the guests invited to the wedding. The wedding was held in the Lago Events Hall in Rishon Letzion in August.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ministers and other senior officials from the Likud party and the Rishon Letzion municipality attended the wedding.
During the questioning on Sunday, Bitan provided investigators with the list of those invited to the wedding and the gifts they gave. He asked for the information on the value of the gifts to be kept confidential for the of privacy of the guests. The Bitans told police that the wedding was paid for with the money the newlywed couple received as gifts and the money left after paying for the wedding was deposited in the couple’s bank account.
The police questioned David Bitan first in the offices of the police’s national fraud unit, starting at 9 A.M. and lasting for five hours. Hagit Bitan arrived at the police station at 1 P.M while her husband was still being questioned so the two could not coordinate their testimony and obstruct the investigation. She was questioned for three hours in a separate room by police.
Bitan is expected to be questioned again on Tuesday.
The case is centered around public bids for earthwork at a construction site in Rishon Letzion. There is suspicion that the work was steered to specific construction contractors through an associate of David Bitan’s, businessman Moshe Yosef. Police are said to have obtained wiretaps of conversions between the two in which the pair allegedly discussed Bitan’s debts and the transfer of tens of thousands of shekels to him.