Olmert - Moti Kimche
Former PM Ehud Olmert Photo by Moti Kimche
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The prosecution announced yesterday that it plans to indict 18 people in the Holyland case, though the suspects will be given hearings at which to try to change prosecutors' minds. The most prominent suspect is former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is due to be charged with taking bribes.

Olmert allegedly received more than NIS 3.5 million from several developers in exchange for promoting their real estate ventures - first in his role as mayor of Jerusalem and then as industry and trade minister. At that time, the Industry and Trade Ministry was responsible for the Israel Lands Administration. One of the ventures in question was the Holyland luxury apartment complex in Jerusalem, from which the case takes its name.

According to the draft indictment, Olmert received NIS 1.5 million to cover his political campaign debts. Another NIS 500,000 went to his brother Yossi, who currently lives in the United States, to help him out of financial trouble. Olmert allegedly sought and received a further NIS 1.4 million for Uri Sheetrit, then Jerusalem's municipal engineer, who was also in financial trouble. A final NIS 70,000 was used to finance political polling.

In addition to the money, Olmert allegedly received a luxury pen and expensive cigars from the key witness in the affair - the middleman who actually transferred many of the alleged payments and has since turned state's evidence. His name remains under a gag order.

Olmert's bureau chief, Shula Zaken, is also suspected of receiving bribes of between NIS 60,000 and NIS 100,000.

The businessmen suspected of paying the bribes include Dan Dankner, Avigdor Kelner and Hillel Charney. The other suspected recipients include former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, former ILA director Yaakov Efrati, former city engineer Sheetrit, city councilman Avraham Finer, deputy Jerusalem mayor Eliezer Shamhiof and two former deputy mayors: Yehoshua Polak and Haim Miller.

In addition to the Holyland project, the bribes were allegedly meant to further various deals by the Hazera corporation and Israel Salt Industries.

The benefits the developers allegedly received in exchange for their bribes include rezoned land, substantially increased building rights (meaning the right to build more apartments on the same land ) and tax breaks. The recipients also allegedly helped speed the projects through various planning committees and get various public objections to the ventures dismissed. Altogether, these benefits are estimated to have been worth tens of millions of shekels.

Charney, one of the Holyland developers, is slated to be charged with paying millions of shekels in bribes to various recipients from 1994 to 2007.

Kelner and others involved in the Holyland project are suspected of paying millions of shekels in bribes from 2002 to 2007. Among those others are Shimon Galon and Tamir Dagan, who served as CEOs of the real estate company Kardan, one of the project's owners.

Meir Rabin, a local wheeler-dealer, is suspected of mediating some of the bribes allegedly paid to public officials.

In the Hazera case, the alleged bribers include Kelner, Amnon Safran and Arnon Brodner, all of whom served as CEOs of Hazera's parent, Polar Investments, at different times from 2002 to 2007. They allegedly paid Efrati, Zaken and Olmert - who was then industry minister - to advance various building projects on agricultural land owned by Hazera.

The alleged bribes in this case came to some NIS 1.5 million. Rabin is suspected of mediating some of these payments as well - specifically, those to Efrati.

In the Salt Industries case, Dankner, who was then the company's chairman, is suspected of paying bribes to Efrati via Rabin in 2003-04. The goal was to get Efrati to rezone some of the company's land so it could be used for residential construction instead of producing salt.

Altogether, Dankner allegedly gave Rabin NIS 1.3 million, of which some NIS 250,000 was passed on to Efrati.

The prosecution's economic and tax crimes division said yesterday that it is still examining the evidence against additional suspects in these cases, so further draft indictments could follow. It promised that decisions on these suspects would be made shortly.

Olmert's spokesman, Amir Dan, said in response that Olmert unequivocally denies ever having taken a bribe, either directly or indirectly. He termed the entire case an "Arabian Nights" tale born in the fertile brain of the state's witness - who, he charged, is a dubious character given to lying and fantasizing for the sake of extorting money from people.

Zaken's layer, Micha Pettman, said that "whenever the prosecution feels it isn't having success in court, it puts out new headlines. That's what happened this time, too." He was referring to three existing cases for which Olmert and Zaken are now standing trial.

Efrati's lawyer, Yaron Kosteliz, said his client was an honest and devoted public servant who never took a shekel in bribes, and he believes the hearing will convince prosecutors to drop their case against him.