Likud lawmaker faces bribery charges

Israel’s Justice Ministry said Sunday that the Likud party’s David Bitan will be charged with taking bribes pending a hearing with the attorney general.

By Associated Press

Knesset member David Bitan is accused of accepting bribes of more than $286,000, as well as fraud, breach of trust and tax violations in nine separate cases.

The alleged crimes took place while Bitan served as deputy mayor of Rishon Lezion, a city in central Israel, and as a member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Bitan early this month to be his agriculture minister, but Bitan abruptly withdrew his candidacy several days later.

In 2016 and 2017, Bitan acted as Netanyahu’s parliamentary coalition chair, a position he resigned amid police investigations. He has denied taking bribes.

Along with Netanyahu and former welfare minister Haim Katz, Bitan became the third Likud party politician facing indictments.

Netanyahu was indicted in November on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three cases. The prime minister, who seeks reelection on March 2 after two inconclusive elections in 2019, has denied any wrongdoing.

Earlier this month Netanyahu asked parliament for immunity from prosecution. Parliamentary proceedings on the request are expected to begin this week.