Israel’s A-G files indictment against ex-Likud chair David Bitan

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday filed an indictment with the Lod District Court against former coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) for seven counts of bribery, money laundering, fraud, breach of trust and tax offenses totaling NIS 715,000.

Mandelblit had approved the indictment in early July, but waited to file it with the court until Bitan waived his parliamentary immunity. In January 2020, Mandelblit hinted that he would eventually move in this direction.

Bitan denies all of the charges.

Mandelblit’s statement in January 2020 alleged Bitan received around NIS 990,000 in bribes along with an unknown value of ownership rights in real estate between 2011 and 2017.

The period, which included nine different alleged criminal instances, covered both his term as Rishon Lezion’s deputy mayor and as an MK.

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

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

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 alleged bribes, Mandelblit’s statement said that Bitan acted to promote the interests of those giving the bribes, including construction company Danya Cebus Ltd., a supermarket 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 the Likud’s agenda.

The criminal investigation was made public in December 2017.

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

In its March statement, police said that it interrogated more than 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 and 2015, Bitan allegedly advanced the interests of Danya Cebus, run by Ronen Ginzburg, through the approval of 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 Highway 431, as well as approval for another project on Highway 38.

In addition, Bitan and another defendant 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 and Yitzhak Jedah, and one scheme is referred to as “half-free.”

According to the charges, Bitan and other defendants organized Knesset and local meetings on behalf of those bribing them, smoothed over needed approvals and ensured that certain tax obligations were reduced.

“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.”