Israeli police have questioned a close ally of Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges a day after tens of thousands of Israelis poured onto the streets of Tel Aviv for an anti-corruption rally calling on the Prime Minister to resign.
Coalition whip David Bitan was interrogated in relation to accusations he promoted the interests of criminals in return for debt relief while he was a municipal politician before being elected to parliament.
Mr Bitan is the driving force behind a legislation push seen as aiding the beleaguered Mr Netanyahu, who faces multiple corruption accusations.
His so-called “recommendations bill” would end the police’s current practice of recommending to the state prosecution office whether to indict suspects, on completing their investigations.
It also aims to stem leaks from the investigations themselves, stating that no police recommendations be made public and penalising those found leaking to the media.
Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party was set to bring the bill for a parliamentary vote on Monday, but appears to be short on numbers and will likely delay it.
Their hope is to move the bill forward quickly so it will also apply to investigations currently taking place regarding Mr Netanyahu.
The Prime Minister has been questioned in two cases and police say they suspect him of being involved in bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Police have already grilled him six times regarding gifts he received from Hollywood and business figures. In a separate probe he has also been asked about secret talks with the publisher of a major Israeli newspaper in which Mr Netanyahu allegedly requested positive coverage in exchange for reining in a free pro-Netanyahu daily. One of his closest former aides has become a state’s witness against him.
Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and calls the accusations a witchhunt orchestrated by a hostile media.
Another investigation has engulfed his close associates and dominated news in Israel. The investigation relates to a possible conflict of interest involving a $2bn (£1.5bn) purchase of German submarines.
Mr Netanyahu’s personal attorney, who is also his cousin, represented the German firm involved and is suspected of trading his influence over the Prime Minister in return for a hefty cut of the deal. A former Cabinet minister and top former navy and security officials have been questioned by police. Mr Netanyahu has yet to be named a suspect in that probe.
Mr Bitan’s questioning comes a day after tens of thousands of Israelis poured into the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday night for an anti-corruption rally calling on Mr Netanyahu to resign. It was one of the largest demonstrations yet against his lengthy rule.
“I think the time has come to change the government. The government is corrupt. We’re sick of the corrupt,” said protester Avi Elmozlinu.
Organisers are hoping the grassroots movement picks up steam and becomes a regular Saturday night ritual which eventually forces Mr Netanyahu from power.
Additional reporting by Associated Press
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