Israeli police question Netanyahu’s close ally in corruption probe

Jerusalem, Dec 4  Israeli police on Sunday questioned David Bitan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close ally and chairman of the coalition, on suspicion of bribery and money laundering.

Bitan was questioned by officers with the police’s Lahav 433 unit on suspicion that he promoted interests of a senior member of a criminal organisation in return for debt relief, Xinhua news agency reported.

At the time of the alleged offences, Bitan was a politician in the municipality of Rishon LeZion, Israel’s fourth-largest city to the south of Tel Aviv.

In relation to the same affair, the police also arrested 17 other senior officials with the Rishon LeZion Municipality, including the mayor.

The moves came as Bitan is pushing forward a new legislation in the parliament, known as the “recommendation bill,” to end the police’s rights of recommending to the General Attorney’s office whether to press charges against a suspect upon concluding their investigation.

The bill also threatens to punish anyone who would leak information from the investigation with imprisonment.

The bill is widely seen in Israel as aimed at helping Netanyahu, who is a suspect in two criminal corruption investigations, as well as other senior politicians who are under corruption investigations.

On Saturday night, tens of thousands of Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv, urging the parliament to reject what they called the “corruption bill.”

They also urged Netanyahu to resign amidst the corruption investigations of the Prime Minister and a growing number of his close allies.

The “recommendation bill” is scheduled to be brought up for the parliament’s approval on Monday, but a lawmaker with the ruling Likud party said on Sunday the vote was postponed without a new date being set.