Usually, police start off with a hodgepodge of evidence relating to an investigation, of varying levels of reliability. Completing the picture requires a diligent process of connecting pieces, without any clear direction; it's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without having the picture on the box as a guide. In the recent Holyland affair, a state's witness brought the bag of puzzle pieces together. There is still need for meticulous work and for finding replacements for lost or torn pieces, but investigators say it's relatively smooth sailing from here, according to the road map they are following.
With the Holyland affair, a Pandora's box was opened - whether due to the identity of those involved or because of the methods they used. Those who initiated the Holyland building complex in Jerusalem saved millions, and the suspicion is that they shared these profits with those who helped them by performing various tasks - from reclassifying hotels as residential buildings (in Israel, profit in hotel construction is negligible, while residential construction brings in almost 20 times as much), to reducing by half the height of the trees they were required to plant. This is conspicuous but not unique, as discussions with municipalities, planning committees and especially the Israel Lands Administration often involve creative proposals and solutions.
Last week's conviction of entrepreneur David Appel for bribing members of the ILA and one of the municipalities (Lod) confirms the long-term suspicion on the part of the police and the State Prosecutor's Office regarding the nature of Appel's ties with politicians - mainly from the Likud (and later Kadima) and Shas - and with officials holding influential positions. Now that Appel has been found guilty, we should be even more skeptical than in the past regarding former attorney general Menachem Mazuz's decision to close the files of Appel and former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon in the Greek island affair. As opposed to Holyland, the investigation that led to the Greek island affair - and for Sharon and Appel, land in the Lod area as well - was not the result of internal testimony, but originated with a complaint lodged by minister Eli Yishai, who said he'd discovered criminal wiretapping of his conversations.
To their surprise, investigators uncovered ties between Appel and former Shas leader Aryeh Deri, current Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Sharon and Olmert. Six years ago the High Court of Justice, rejected a petition against then-attorney general Mazuz in the Sharon case, which essentially closed the investigation against Sharon. It is interesting to consider what would have happened had Appel's recent conviction preceded the investigation into his ties to Olmert and Sharon. Today the High Court knows what has come to light since then, and is more strict than in the past on the issue of breach of faith, and so it is possible that the justices would have taken a firmer stand.
One of the most important characteristics of the confrontation that has unfolded between the two groups - the law enforcement system versus the suspects - is solidarity. There has been good teamwork within the prosecutor's office - State Prosecutor Moshe Lador and his deputies, the Jerusalem municipality, and the tax and economy prosecution - as well as between the prosecutor's office and the police. On the other side, one reason Olmert has survived previous cases, though not all of them, is the permanence of the group surrounding him, particularly attorney Uri Messer and Olmert's former bureau chief Shula Zaken, but also former cabinet secretary Oved Yehezkel, former PMO director general Raanan Dinur and others. Cracks in this wall could determine how the investigation will proceed (summons, arrest, search warrants) and later the importance of the evidence in the case.
Zaken was not tempted to incriminate Olmert in the cases now being discussed in their trials. She could have received a more convenient arrangement for herself in the Tax Authority case, where she is standing trial alongside former authority director Jackie Matza and others; but the indictment against her was not sufficiently strong to convince her to sign a plea bargain, despite her defense attorney Micha Pettman recommending that she do so.
The interlocking connections among the affairs seem to be endless. After Yigal Arnon represented Olmert in the Likud "fictitious invoices" trial, which ended in acquittal (the prosecutor's office decided not to appeal, so that it would not be accused of hounding Olmert), Olmert's opponents on the Jerusalem City Council found fault with his favoritism of other clients of Arnon, who initiated construction at the YMCA compound in Jerusalem. These opponents suspected that the YMCA benefits were meant to compensate Arnon for receiving insufficient compensation in the "fictitious invoices" trial. Judging by Olmert's reply, it was a false accusation: Olmert wrote that he had paid Arnon $900,000.
His adversaries were mollified on the one hand, but disturbed on the other. Even for a wealthy man of means, it's not easy to raise almost one million dollars. One Olmert opponent, attorney Gilad Barnea, phoned the Income Tax Authority offices and spoke to the deputy commissioner for investigations. "Forget it, there's no point in investigating," replied the man, Jackie Matza.
Corruption, not murder
Despite the complexity of the Holyland affair and the large number of people involved, anyone who attributes the utmost gravity to it is exaggerating. This is a matter of corruption, not murder. No lives were lost. Nor is anything known about an assassination threat. Although, according to testimony given by his supporters, when he was prime minister Olmert felt he was the target of a blackmail attempt by the person who turned state's witness a year later. His decision not to go to the police was explained by considerations related to his other pending investigations.
But that is not enough to explain why the threat involved in blackmailing an incumbent prime minister was concealed from the Shin Bet VIP security unit. As the Shin Bet security service did not know, the story was not known to then-attorney general Mazuz either, to whom Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin would have turned for instructions, as is the usual practice.
The state's witness, whose identity remains classified, was not a victim of violence, but he became entangled in debts to the gray market totaling millions - and the grayer the market, the bluer the marks left on the body of anyone taking too long to repay his debts. The need to work things out with his creditors is what pushed the witness to seek out State Prosecutor Moshe Lador. Mazuz, then in the last month of his term (January), was kept informed, but his involvement was unnecessary.
The problematic personality of the witness has been covered extensively. Another side of it was illuminated this week by an old colleague of his, who first met him in a public institution outside Tel Aviv where they worked together about 40 years ago. The witness, who handled money at the institution, pleaded with the employees to use their entitlement to receive loans, so he could use them for his own benefit. He then used the money and made investments, but his coworkers were only repaid what they had loaned him. When he became rich he purchased a luxury car, but when his friends wanted to join him on his daily commutes to the office, he made sure to charge them for a ride in the car.
In Olmert, it seems the witness found a fellow lover of loans. During the Bank of North America trial in the 1980s, Olmert was exposed as a borrower in no hurry to return tens of thousands of dollars. After receiving that loan, from banker Yehoshua Halperin, Olmert received at least one more loan, from businessman Joseph Elmaleh. The loan from Elmaleh, which was given in 1993 and has yet to be repaid, in violation of a promise made to the state comptroller among other things, has accumulated seniority (but no interest).
The Holyland affair is a class reunion of veterans of the Bank of North America scandal, though some roles have been swapped: the defense has become the prosecution, and vice versa. Attorney Yehuda Weinstein, the defense attorney for Halperin (who was eventually convicted), recently became the attorney general, at the height of the Holyland investigation. While he keeps abreast of events, Weinstein is prevented from handling any aspects of the case related in some way to Olmert, his former client (from the Rishon Tours trial). Attorney Shimon Dolan, who was the prosecutor in Halperin's trial, is now representing Messer, one of the suspects in the Holyland affair.
In itself, the agreement struck with the state's witness is not anything new or infuriating. Controversial agreements have been signed under no less problematic circumstances. For example, the agreement between then-attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein and Stanislav Yazhemsky, the man who stole documents from the police, despite the opposition of then-state prosecutor Edna Arbel. Rubinstein followed the recommendation made by attorney Yaakov Neeman, who is now the justice minister. Yazhemsky fled to Canada with a recording that contained secret police material. Rubinstein attributed supreme importance to the material being returned and using it in the investigation, to the point of exempting Yazhemsky from incrimination (in the end, however, Yazhemsky did not return all of the material). Some legal scholars see this precedent as a possible basis for formulating an agreement with Anat Kamm and Uri Blau (who are accused, respectively, of stealing and using classified Israel Defense Forces documents).