Corruption scandal surrounding Netanyahu’s close ally widens

The Israeli prime minister’s close ally, Knesset member David Bitan, is suspected of being at the center of a massive corruption case. 

By: Mara Vigevani/TPS 

Police detained four people for questioning Monday, including a senior official at the Tel Aviv municipality as part of a widening investigation into corruption allegations in the city of Rishon Lezion.

Likud Whip David Bitan, a former deputy mayor of Rishon, and the current mayor of the city, Dov Tzur, were among 17 people questioned Sunday in the affair.

Bitan, who has denied any wrongdoing, is suspected of accepting bribes while serving as the head of the Rishon Lezion city planning committee from 2008-2013, allegedly to settle NIS 7 million in personal debts incurred while Bitan served as chairman of the local Ironi Rishon soccer team.

Monday’s detentions followed a previous wave on Sunday morning of 17 people, including two parliamentary aides and businesspeople.

Police also named Hussam Jarushi, a senior member of a criminal organization, as the man suspected of bribing Bitan in return for awarding construction tenders to associates from whom Jarushi would then take a cut.

A police spokesperson said the investigation, known as Case 1803,  has been going on for more than a year and was authorized by State Attorney Shai Nitzan and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Bitan’s interrogation was the latest corruption scandal to explode in or near Prime Minister Netanyahu’s inner circle since the current government was elected in 2015.

Netanyahu himself has been questioned multiple times by police about two allegations that he accepted inappropriate gifts in exchange for political favors.

In addition, a string of former advisers, including Netanyahu’s personal lawyer and former chief of staff, have been arrested and charged with using their political connections to push the Defense Ministry to purchase a fleet of submarines and corvette patrol vessels from Germany’s ThyssenKrupp shipbuilding conglomerate.