Olmert cited as 'senior official' in Holyland affair
Court clears for publication that former prime minister is suspect of receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels in bribes from businessmen for Jerusalem real estate project. Ynet learns that police, working with State witness, deliberately broke affair while Olmert was abroad
They referred to him as "the senior personality," "the main suspect abroad," and even E.O. Now, the missing link is finally official. Ehud Olmert, former prime minister and former mayor of Jerusalem during the licensing of the Holyland real estate project, is slated to be investigated under caution in coming days in what has been called by one judge, "one of the worst corruption cases in the history of the country."
This information was cleared for publication Thursday morning by the courts. It was also cleared for publication that the State Prosecutor's Office and the police have at a State witness at their disposal. The identity of the witness remains confidential.
The National Fraud Investigations Unit suspects that Olmert, currently on trial for three other corruption cases, pocketed hundreds of thousands of shekels from businessmen, entrepreneurs, and stakeholders in the affair. In return, the latter received a cash cow, recently labeled "an ugly real estate monstrosity" by the court.
It was also cleared for publication that the police suspect that as a result of the bribes the Holyland real estate development was expanded 1,200% beyond the limit authorized in the original plan. The police suspect that the bribes were systematically handed out to various officials in the Jerusalem Municipality and other public bodies.
As the Holyland affair broke last week and part of it were first made known to the public, Olmert was abroad. This was no coincidence. Ynet learned that the arrest warrants for the six arrested suspects waited until Olmert's plane took off, and then the police jumped on the opportunity.
"The fact that he was abroad served the investigation overall," explained the police. "After all, he couldn't disrupt it from there, and this also prevented unnecessary unpleasantness for him. Such a senior personality is not so easily arrested."
The legal representation of the other suspects, whose remand was extended significantly, didn't buy it. "If whoever is receiving the bribes isn't arrested, clearly there is no reason to arrest the person giving the bribes or the intermediary."
Warned to keep quiet
Recently, the police have applied pressure on two of the suspects in a bid to get them to confess in exchange for certain perks. The two, Holyland accountant Eliyahu Hasson and businessman Meir Rabin, were identified by the investigators as having suitable profiles, mainly because their criminal part, or at least their personal gain, from the affair was significantly lower than that of other suspects.
Hasson was presented with documents with the initials "E.O." on them. When asked to explain who E.O. is meant to be, he did not respond. According to those close to him, he was pressured to incriminate his business partners in order to be spared from standing trial.
Rabbis recruited. Meir Rabin. (Photo: Ofer Amram)
As of now, Hasson is not cooperating with the police's request. Those around him said, "They are trying to break him in any way possible. The nine more days of detainment they dropped on him could definitely do it."
The other "minor" character was identified as Meir Rabin, who was allegedly said to have located potential bribe recipients. Via rabbis and figures well-known in religious circles, the police tried to convince him to inform under investigation.
Recently, he actually started answering investigators' questions, a fact that apparently got leaked, prompting his associates to gesture with their fingers for him to keep quiet during court hearings. The police did not look kindly upon this and warned the associates that their actions amounted to a disruption of proceedings that could land them in the investigation chair.
In any case, it is unlikely that the police will ease up their pressure on the two after the extension of their remand. "Clearly, testimony from one like this further strengthens the case, which the judge said already has a strong enough base of evidence," said sources involved in the investigation. As mentioned, they already have a State witness being held in a safe place.
The Holyland development project, which overlooks Begin Highway in Jerusalem, was started in the 90s. The construction of hundreds of housing units received final authorization in 1999, to the great chagrin of many who were upset by the blatant anomaly to the Jerusalem skyline.
Businessman Hillel Cherney, who owned the land and asked that the scope of building on it be increased, allegedly not averse to using a variety of means to promote the project. He is suspected of paying tens of millions of shekels in bribes to relevant city officials, apparently including the mayor.
Cherney also owns the Tzuk Manara development next to Kiryat Shemona. Here, too, he needed Olmert's help, but this time in his capacity as the industry, labor, and trade minister who presides over the business development authority.
According to the police, he maneuvered an entire mechanism in order to link between him and officials he intended to pay off. The "dirty work" of transferring the money was carried out by Eliyahu Hasson, an accountant serving as the comptroller for the Holyland development. The National Fraud Investigation Unit has found papers documenting the alleged transfer of bribery funds.
Another key figure in the affair is Uri Messer, Olmert's confidant for decades who is currently a central witness in his trial.
The police believe that Messer received tens of thousands of shekels to pass on to Olmert in order to promote the Holyland project and the Tzuk Manara development. Messer allegedly passed on most of the money to Olmert, but opted to keep some for himself. In order to cover his tracks, he is believed to have issued fictitious invoices to these companies for rendering them "professional consulting" services.
The funds were transferred partly in checks that were deposited with moneychangers and in the grey market.