Bitan asks courts to allow him to discuss graft case with press
MK David Bitan files appeal requesting permission to discuss his graft investigation with the press, arguing leaks by investigators are tarnishing his and his wife's name; 'He has no opportunity to respond'; senior official remanded in case identified as Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Arnon Giladi.
“Even before the investigation was completed against Bitan and his wife on Sunday, Bitan was asked to sign a letter of commitment, forbidding him from talking to the media about the details of the investigation,” it was written in a request submitted to the Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court by Bitan’s attorney, Efraim Damari.
“Even though Bitan didn’t have to sign this document, in light of the immunity granted to him as an MK from arrest, he agreed, of his own good and free will, to sign the commitment to enable the investigative units to conduct the investigation efficiently and with discretion,” Efraim wrote.
Bitan, who is suspected of bribery, fraud, breach of trust, aggravated obtaining of illicit gifts and money laundering in the Rishon LeZion affair—centering on how he paid off his debts accumulated while he served as the chairman of the Rishon LeZion soccer team—wrote “the only demand by the investigators was to prevent details being given to the press and that was in order ‘to prevent disruptions in the probe.’ Due to the nature of things, and if the disclosure of details is liable to disrupt investigation proceedings, all the more so this restriction should apply to the investigating unit.”
But the notion of “living up to one’s principles,” the request continued, “seems not to have reached the ears of the investigative unit. The investigation of Bitan has only just concluded and you won't find a single news outlet in the country that isn't publishing extensive parts of the investigation of him and his wife, when there is a close connection between the two investigations.”
“It’s not only the leaks that are serious,” Damari wrote. “But they are also more severe when they are tendentious and intended to apply improper and unacceptable pressures on investigators in general.”
Damari went on to bemoan the fact that Bitan was being left to take the public media onslaught lying down.
“Against this flood of leaks, which can only have originated from the investions unit, Bitan is helpless, his name and his wife’s name are being tarnished and he has no opportunity to respond … Therefore, we ask that the court nullify the restriction Bitan imposed on himself,” the appeal concluded.
The Rishon LeZion Magistrates’ Court also extended Tuesday the remand of four people who were taken in Monday night and Tuesday morning in the Rishon LeZion case.
The remand of one of the suspects, businessman Benny Uziel, was extended by a week. Uziel is suspected of bribery, money laundering and having criminal ties.
Further developments were made in the case when it was cleared for publication Tuesday that the senior official from the Tel Aviv Municipality who was arrested a day prior in the case was the city’s deputy mayor Arnon Giladi.
Giladi was questioned in the probe for several hours at the police's Lahav 433 anti-fraud unit on suspicion of fraud and breach of trust. He was discharged after being questioned and placed under house arrest for three days.
Bitan and Giladi are believed to have maintained a friendship spanning a number of years, which was forged during their activities in the Likud political party.
According to the suspicions, Bitan asked Giladi to resolve for a handful of people problems relating to the Tel Aviv Municipality.
Investigators are attempting to figure out whether money was subsequently taken by Bitan in exchange for the services.
Giladi confirmed during the investigation that he referred those people to the city's professionals to deal with the problems, as expected as someone who assists the public, but he also denied any knowledge of Bitan possibly taking payouts later on.
“I never concealed my long-standing friendship with MK David Bitan,” Giladi said during his questioning.
It was also cleared for publication on Tuesday that Bitan’s driver, Shaul Haknaani, was arrested in the Rishon LeZion case.
His arrest was extended on Tuesday evening by two days. Haknaani, who also serves a parliamentary assistant for Bitan, and is suspected of bribery.