The Holyland residential project in Jerusalem.
The Holyland residential project in Jerusalem. Photo by Michal Fattal
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On the fourth day of his testimony, the state’s key prosecution witness in the Holyland trial, S.D., spoke about the bribe money he allegedly transferred to former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski.

The witness testified that at Lupolianski’s request, he made donations to the “Yad Sarah,” foundation, which was founded by the Lupolianski family in memory of Lupolianski’s mother, in order to build a synagogue. The witness’s bribe money was used for purchasing an ancient ark, as well as other equipment for the foundation. According to S.D., the donations were made in exchange for advancing the Holyland building project. Lupolianski was yet to be elected as mayor at the time.

“Toward the end of May 2000, Mr. Lupolianski led me on a tour of the ‘Yad Sarah’ facility in Jerusalem,” said the witness, “during which he explained to me that he would be very interested in building a synagogue at the site, and that a budget for such a synagogue was not taken into account.”

“A day or two later,” continued S.D., “after I’d spoke with Mr. Cherney [Hillel Cherney, owner of the Holyland complex, defendant in the case] and received the permits, I informed Lupolianski that we agreed to build a synagogue for ‘Yad Sarah.’”

 “Mr. Lupoliansky spoke with me and said that he would be very interested in having a one of a kind holy ark in the synagogue that was to be built,” said S.D. According to the witness, after Lupolianski’s request, he set out to acquire an ark from the 18th century at a public auction. The ark cost him roughly NIS 77 thousand.

The prosecutor asked the witness, “in addition to the donations you made to Mr. Lupoliansky for ‘Yad Sarah,’ when did you send him other funds, not in the form of donations?”

“There was one such occasion, when Mr. Lupoliansky was running for mayor. Then, we gave him NIS 120 thousand in cash on election day for the people he had in the field,” answered S.D.

 “Who was involved in this occasion?” the prosecutor asked. “Mr. Rabin [Meir Rabin, S.D.’s assistant, another defendant] was involved. We had a meeting with Mr. Lupoliansky at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, and at that meeting one of the topics of discussion was his need for cash on election day,” testified S.D.

“Then we decided to give him $30 thousand, which was worth NIS 120 thousand, which he indeed received later in cash,” he added.

 “Mr. Meir Rabin brought it to him in cash. I gave Mr. Rabin the money from funds I had received from Mr. Cherney,” continued the witness.

The witness was asked in Lupolianski returned the NIS 120 thousand, and replied: "[He] didn’t return it. It wasn’t meant to be returned. He was never asked to return it because it was given as a loan.”

On another occasion, the witness explained, he gave Lupolianski’s son NIS 40 thousand for a kollel that he managed.

When asked about his relationship with Cherney, the witness replied, “Mr. Cherney knew that I gave money, and he requested that at those stages the money be given as loans." S.D. continued, “later on, there were also communications with Cherney regarding these amounts, in which I told him that they were not loans and that I did not mean to collect.”

According to the witness, Cherney “hoped that it would stop at some point… he continued to pay the bribes later as well, though he simply decided that some of the bribes would be given in the form of loans. He hoped that the loans would be repaid, and I told him that this money will not be returned.”

The witness explained that in 2002 Lupolianski approached him angrily and complained that Cherney did not deliver $1 million to ‘Yad Sarah,’ as he had promised. According to S.D., based on the promise, ‘Yad Sarah’ had already began to purchase equipment, thought it turned out then that Cherney did not deliver the money, or part of it, as he had promised.

The witness explained that during that time talks began about changing the zoning of the Holyland grounds and the urban building scheme. “I don’t know what made Cherney promise $1 million and not keep that promise,” said the witness.

According to the Holyland Affair indictment, businessman Hillel Cherny, the owner of the land in question, acted to change the designation of the real estate to enable the construction of a residential area. Between 1994 and 2007, Cherney and S.D., together with S.D.'s assistant Meir Rabin, are said to have paid millions of Shekels in bribes. After the lands' designation was changed, Cherney sold part of the lands to a company named "Holyland Park," headed by three other defendants, including former Polar Investments CEO Avigdor Kelner, who owns a stake in Holyland.

The prosecutor's office claims that "during this period, carrying out a systematic and ongoing plan, the entrepreneurs, S.D. and Rabin, bribed a long list of elected officials and public servants in the Jerusalem municipality, in order to persuade them to support the project."

During his testimony, S.D. claimed that he acted as a middleman between the entrepreneur and the elected officials. S. admitted that he forwarded the requests to the authorities and was constantly in touch with the officials.

"At the end of the day… due to the criminal activity I carried out with the full knowledge and approval of Cherney, and through his funding, we managed to secure 311 thousand square meters for construction instead of only 25,000 square meters," S.D. said.