Hillel Cherney and S.D.
Holyland project developer Hillel Cherney, right, and state witness S.D. Photo by Yossi Aloni
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The state’s key prosecution witness in the Holyland trial, S.D., on Monday confessed in Tel Aviv's District Court that he had made up details included in a draft of a lawsuit he intended to file against the Holyland project developer, Hillel Cherney, in attempt to scare him into paying his debts to S.D.

Under cross-examination, S.D. admitted to fabricating names and family ties mentioned in the draft, including names of police officers who allegedly received bribes in the Holyland affair. One of the names mentioned in the draft was that of Israel’s former prime minister Ehud Olmert. S.D. said that the initials “A.A.” (alef alef, which are the first letters of Olmert’s first and last names in Hebrew) mentioned in the documents do not refer to Olmert. Under questioning in court, S.D. refused to say to whom it does refer.

Olmert is one of 16 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, a luxury residential property in Jerusalem.

S.D. admitted that he stated in the draft that some Jerusalem municipality officials were taking bribes, even though he never bribed them. Attempting to explain his actions, S.D. said he was in a poor emotional and financial state at the time and he hoped to reach a settlement with Cherney without involving the police. S.D. expressed remorse over his lies and over the resulting damage.

In his testimony, S.D. described how he was told in a 1994 meeting with Cherney that he should bribe officials in order to change the project’s building scheme in their favor. S.D. said Cherney told him that based on his own experience, this was the only way it could be done.

S.D. also noted that he offered Cherney to bribe Olmert (who served as Jerusalem’s mayor between 1993 and 2003) after Avigdor Lieberman told him sometime in the mid-1990s that Olmert is corrupt and after Olmert’s former lawyer, Yigal Arnon, told him that “Olmert likes money and likes making money,” hinting he could be bribed.

Asked by Cherney’s attorney why he lied, S.D. said he was not acting out of greed, but because Cherney refused to pay him his share. “He earned NIS 300 million from the project,” S.D. told the court, “so don’t talk to me about greed.”

In testimony given by S.D. at previous court appearances, he talked of his relationship with Olmert in the Holyland affair. “We were like two horse thieves, and I admit I was one of the thieves,” said S.D. “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.”

The state’s witness told the court that Olmert had asked him to meet in his office in the second half of 2000. “He told me that his brother [Yossi Olmert – ed.] was heavily in debt to the underworld and asked me to talk to Cherney so that we would help his brother, because he can’t… He asked us to give him NIS 500,000.”