Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced Monday that he will indict Knesset member David Bitan for bribery, fraud, breach of trust and tax offenses in several criminal affairs, pending a hearing. Bitan is accused of receiving bribes in return for promoting the private interests of businessmen and contractors while he was serving in a public role.
Bitan, a Likud member, is a close associate of Netanyahu and a former coalition whip. In December 2017, he was interrogated by the Israel Police. In March 2019, the police announced that they had found substantive evidence to indict him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in 12 different cases.
Haaretz Weekly Ep. 58
In their recommendation to indict Bitan, following investigations into his case, the police noted that Bitan "received bribes in cash – a sum that amounts to hundreds of thousands of shekels; he also was promised apartments in return [for carrying out] different actions related to his role" while he acted as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion as well as when he served as a lawmaker and coalition whip.
The police charged that Bitan has used "his authority, influence, strength and connections… in order to promote the interests of the businesspeople he operated on behalf of and got favors from."
Following the decision by the attorney general, Bitan's attorneys stated: "MK Bitan never received money or favors in return for actions related to his role as a public servant. Every decision he made while manning public posts was solely based on the merits of the case, and he only acted to serve the public. After we expose the evidence and the serious claims that we have, the fog will be lifted and will reveal an entirely different picture from the one painted in the charge sheet."
Bitan is accused of receiving from contractors and businessmen hundreds of thousands of shekels in cash through his friend and associate, Moshe Yosef. In return, Bitan is said to have pushed their interests with entities like the Rishon Lezion municipality and other government offices.
Yosef, the main witness in the cases against Netanyahu's lackey, has agreed to testify against Bitan in return for a more lenient indictment in the case against him, an agreed-upon jail sentence and the closure of cases against his family members, who were also interrogated in the various affairs.
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Earlier in January, Netanyahu announced that he was appointing Bitan as agriculture minister, after the premier was forced to give up the portfolio. Several days later, Bitan announced that he would not accept the position.
Bitan was promised by the premier that he would be tapped minister several years ago. Netanyahu declared Bitan's appointment but the government decided to postpone the appointment of several new ministers after the Supreme Court of Justice raised concerns that a caretaker government should not be allowed to appoint new ministers. Bitan later announced that he would forgoe the position.