Olmert / Holyland building Tomer Appelbaum
Ehud Olmert in front of the Holyland building development in Jerusalem. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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The Jerusalem Building and Planning Council decided Monday to freeze excavation work being done at the Holyland luxury residential development site for 100 days, as the state investigates allegations of bribery involving senior municipal officials over the deal.

The investigations has embroiled many high-ranking Jerusalem officials, including former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Jerusalem mayor, Uri Lupolianski.

Police suspect that, between 1999 and 2008, the Holyland Development Company and associated land developers paid tens of millions ofdollars in bribes to senior decision makers in the Jerusalem municipality, members of its planning and construction committee andofficials in the Israel Lands Administration.

The decision to freeze excavation was reached after a stormy debate during which development representatives accused committee members of playing to populism. A committee member charged developers with acting in bad faith when they asked for and received the excavation permits.

Members of the planning committee said that without the building permits, work would be stopped on the three towers planned for the project.

Tzachi Katz, Jerusalem's director of construction, licensing, and inspecting, told the committee that although a number of the apartments and part of the land would remain in the hands of developers, the development company would not be allowed to build the three additional towers, which they previously requested.

Committee members, city engineers, and the legal adviser to the municipality requested to annul completely the developer's building permits.

Representatives from Holyland firmly rejected the complaint. Attorney Rafi Ettinger of the law firm Yigal Arnon, who is representing Holyland, accused the committee of bringing politics into the matter.

"If the Holyland affair had not exploded, nothing like this would have happened," Ettinger said.