The state's witness in the Holyland corruption trial testified Monday morning that he had transferred a sum of between NIS 4.5-5 million (between $1.1 and $1.3 million) to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during the period covered by the indictment.
The witness, known as S., said that in return for the sum, Olmert, then mayor of Jerusalem, helped him secure statutory planning approval for the Holyland luxury building complex in southwestern Jerusalem.
Monday was S.'s second day on the witness stand in the Tel Aviv District Court. Olmert is one of sixteen suspects being charged with wrongdoing in the case, which involves developers who allegedly paid bribes to senior Jerusalem municipal officials in exchange for expedited approval of expanded construction plans for the Holyland project.
"We were like two horse thieves, and I admit I was one of the thieves," said S., whose full name cannot be published. "It was a merging of interests, each with his own interest, each with his own objectives, so we didn't even have to talk very much in order to understand each other."
"Everything Olmert asked of me I fulfilled with the obliging help of Hillel Cherney. He did everything that was within his authority to do." Cherney, one of the accused, was the owner of the land on which the Holyland complex was built.
The witness related how, during the second half of 2000, Olmert asked him to come to his office. "He told me that his brother had gotten entangled with heavy debts to the underworld and asked me to speak with Cherney to help his brother, because he couldn't." S. said Olmert asked for NIS 500,000 to get his brother out of debt.
The witness continued: "[Olmert] told me that he was willing to give up any personal requests for himself, and that he would help us advance the rezoning plan for the northern section, which I had previously discussed with him."
When asked how Shula Zaken, Olmert's former bureau chief, who is also charged in the case, had reacted, S. replied, "Ms. Zaken got angry at Mr. Olmert and said he should have asked for money to cover his own debts and not those of Yossi [Olmert]."
S. said he was surprised by Olmert's request "because this was after a different demand had been raised by Mr. Olmert ... A few months before, some disaster had befallen Uri Sheetrit [the Jerusalem city engineer, also indicted], and Olmert called me and asked me and Cherney to help Sheetrit with his troubles, because otherwise he would be forced to leave the municipality.
"We decided that I would get NIS 500,000 to Yossi Olmert, of which I would pay NIS 150,000 and Cherney would pay NIS 350,000," the witness continued. "I informed Olmert of the agreement, subject to the money not being transferred in one go, but via post-dated checks. Mr. Olmert said that was fine, and he would refer his brother to me.
But then, according to S., Olmert said his brother was under pressure and asked S. for an advance. "As I remember I gave him one or two checks of my own at that point, from my own personal account, and I agreed to meet with [Yossi Olmert] a few days later. As I recall that was NIS 50,000."
The witness testified that he met with Olmert's brother in a Tel Aviv cafe. "We met at around 3 p.m., when I knew the cafe would be empty. As I recall I gave him eight checks, each for NIS 50,000."
The witness also described Olmert's participation in the Jerusalem District Planning Commission meeting at which the Holyland building plan was discussed. "Olmert attended the District Planning Commission meeting at my request," the witness said. "He and Ms. Shula Zaken both reported about it to me afterward, saying that Olmert had done it only for me, that he never participated in meetings of the District Planning Commission but that he did it this time especially to persuade [the commission] to approve the urban building plan."
The witness also said he transferred NIS 1.5 million to cover Ehud Olmert's debts from his mayoral campaigns in 1993 and 1999, and his race for the Likud chairmanship in 1999.
"I used money I got from Holyland to cover Olmert's debts from his election campaigns," S. said. "I sent checks to Olmert's office, to Shula. I was asked to send checks of NIS 5,000 each to cover the election campaign, so that those checks could be shown to the state comptroller when he did an audit."
"It was a series of checks that I collected from myself, my acquaintances and my family, and I gave her checks of NIS 5,000 each. Then I gave Mr. Cherney the list of these checks and asked him to reimburse me."
When asked by the prosecutor why each check had to be NIS 5,000, the witness said, "Because by law, you can't legally give more than NIS 5,000 to a candidate through a registered association. Shula told me that Ehud Olmert had signed for his debts personally, and Ehud Olmert was the guarantor of the debts he accumulated."
Asked if Olmert knew about the transfer of funds in this fashion, he replied that not only did Olmert know, he thanked S. for it several times.
"He thanked me by phone, and also, when I would meet with Shula Zaken he would come into the room to thank me," S. testified. "Shula would say to Olmert in my presence, 'You know that S. gave us money,' and he would respond, 'I thank you again for what you're doing.'"
S. also testified that he had given Zaken NIS 350,000, which Cherney ultimately covered, and had bought her jewelry and furniture.
Olmert media adviser Amir Dan said that S. is a liar, and that these lies would be uncovered during the cross-examination. Dan added that the prosecution proved it doesn't even believe its witness, when it announced at the opening of the trial that it would not present his diaries because it couldn't rely on things the witness himself had written.
Next Tuesday, the Jerusalem District Court is expected to deliver its verdict in three other bribery and corruption cases involving Olmert and Zaken: the "Rishon Tours" case, the Investment Center case and the Talansky case. The allegations of wrongdoing in these cases are what led Olmert to resign as prime minister in 2008.
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