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Netanyahu’s whip faces police corruption probe

Coalition whip David Bitan faces allegations of bribe-taking and fraud

    Coalition whip David Bitan became the latest Israeli government figure to be questioned in a corruption probe this week, risking the derailment of Benjamin Netanyahu’s legislative agenda.

    Mr Bitan, who has been the Israeli Prime Minister’s main enforcer since 2015, was questioned twice this week under caution. He faces allegations of bribe-taking and fraud during the period he served as deputy mayor of Rishon LeZion.

    The current mayor of the city, which is south of Tel Aviv, and a number of business figures have also been detained for questioning.

    Mr Bitan is thought to be being questioned over the issuing of building permits to contractors in return for money to cover his debts. His wife has also been questioned over allegations of money-laundering.

    The case — the latest in a series of investigations concerning corruption in local councils — has national implications because of Mr Bitan’s pivotal role in the Knesset.

    As coalition whip, he has shepherded controversial bills through the law-making stages and made sure that the six parties in the coalition fell into line.

    But he failed last weekend to pass the so-called “recommendations law”, which would have forbidden the police to recommend indictments at the end of its investigations. Likud MKs admit the law was intended to give Mr Netanyahu some breathing space from his own corruption investigations.

    It fell through when members of the centrist Kulanu party announced they would not vote for it. The bill will now be redrafted to make clear it would not apply to existing investigations.

    Mr Bitan, who denied all the allegations against him, said he had no plans to resign as whip even though he has been politically weakened.

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