A close associate of former coalition whip David Bitan, businessman Moshe Yosef, began providing detailed testimony to the police on Tuesday, describing more than 10 affairs, some them not yet known to the police.
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Yosef, who has been dubbed “Bitan’s banker,” is suspected of transferring hundreds of thousands of shekels to the Likud politician over the years as bribes for covering his debts. Amid the allegations, Bitan, a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stepped down as coalition whip but remains a Likud Knesset member.
The police suspect that Yosef served as an intermediary between Bitan and businessmen, people involved in the so-called gray-loan market, and companies that wanted to promote their interests. During the time in question, Bitan was a senior official in the Rishon Letzion municipality and later a Knesset member.
Last month, Bitan told associates that he had no intention of leaving the Knesset and would be re-elected to another term. “Everything else is nonsense,” he said.
Sources have told Haaretz that already two and a half weeks ago, Yosef starting giving testimony summarizing the 10 or so affairs in which he allegedly transferred bribes to Bitan.
Yosef’s interrogation is expected to continue throughout the month.
One of the affairs concerns the bidding process for a real estate project. A source close to the investigation said Yosef’s testimony also implicated Rishon Letzion Mayor Dov Tzur, who is expected to be summoned for additional questioning.
Also central to the investigation is the funding of the wedding of Bitan’s daughter. The police have records showing that Yosef paid 260,000 shekels ($75,200) in cash; it is suspected that this sum also served as a bribe. At the same time, Yosef’s new testimony in the case seriously implicates people who have already been questioned.
The source added that based on the information that Yosef has provided and is expected to provide, members of the Jarushi crime family are not involved in bribes to Bitan. He distances the family members who have been questioned, Hussam Jarushi and the chairman of the Waqf religious trust in Ramle, Adnan Jarushi, from Bitan.
During his questioning, Yosef told investigators: “I have never received money from Adnan or Hussam Jarushi for the purpose of bribing Bitan.” But Yosef is expected to be questioned about his relations with the family in other suspected criminal affairs, including money laundering.
In recent weeks great progress has been made in the contacts between Yosef’s defense attorneys and the police. Yosef refused to turn state’s evidence and agreed only to reach a plea deal in which he would fully answer investigators’ questions and serve as a prosecution witness in the indictment expected to be submitted against Bitan.
On Tuesday, two publicly-traded companies were named amid allegations that they paid bribes to Bitan through Yosef: construction firm Danya Cebus, one of Israel’s largest real estate developers and builders, and supermarket chain Hatzi Hinam.
This new trouble comes at a sensitive time for Danya Cebus: the sale of its parent company, Africa Israel, from one business tycoon to another – from Lev Leviev to Moti Ben-Moshe.
Danya Cebus said it did not know of any police investigation concerning the company: “If and when we are asked we will provide all the information we have on the matter,” it said.
This is the company’s third major investigation over the past two years. In September 2016 a multistory underground parking lot it was putting up in Tel Aviv collapsed, killing six workers. A criminal investigation was opened against Danya Cebus.
In June, the Israel Antitrust Authority began investigating the company over suspicions of price fixing in construction bids in Shoham southeast of Tel Aviv. Danya Cebus has also been informed that the authority is considering having indictments filed against the company and its chief executive, Ronen Ginzburg.