Donor Bought Olmert's J'lem Home in 1995 for 30% Over Value

Uri Harkham bought house in mid-'90s after contributing $25,000 to ticket Olmert headed in 1993 mayoral campaign.

A Haaretz investigation has found that the Olmert family sold a Jerusalem house in 1995 for at least 30 percent more than the amount paid for the same house in each of two subsequent sales, one of which took place six years ago and the second of which took place last year.

In addition, the person who represented Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's family in the sale of the house was Uri Messer, Olmert's attorney and good friend. A Haaretz Magazine investigation recently revealed that while serving as minister of industry and trade, Olmert dealt with the requests of clients of Messer's, helping them garner benefits worth millions. Despite the potential conflicts of interest, Olmert did not recuse himself from dealing with such requests.

The Prime Minister's Bureau said Olmert paid Messer a fee for handling the sale of the house, located on 54 Shiloh Street in the Nahlaot neighborhood. Neither Olmert nor Messer would disclose the size of the fee.

As reported this week on Channel 10, the house was registered under the name of Olmert's wife Aliza and sold in the mid-'90s to Jewish-American businessman Uri Harkham, and Harkham's three brothers. Harkham contributed $25,000 to United Jerusalem, the ticket Olmert headed in the 1993 Jerusalem mayoralty campaign, on the eve of the elections.

Before the Olmerts sold the house, they used it to showcase Aliza Olmert's artwork, after which the Olmerts' children moved in.

Harkham told Channel 10 that he has never contributed to individuals, only institutions, and has certainly never made any contributions to Olmert. The businessman said he sold the house because he was not happy with the way it had been treated and said the sale did not involve any corruption.

The Harkhams paid NIS 1.95 million at the time, the equivalent of about $660,000, or $5,000 per square meter for the 120-square-meter house, which has a large garden and a parking space.

The Olmert house appears to have gone for the highest price per meter paid for a residence in Nahlaot during the mid-'90s or since then according to an examination of many real estate deals in the neighborhood over the last decade or so.

Other properties were sold for about $1,500 per square meter, reaching as high as $3,000 per square meter in a few cases. It should be noted that the other sales were for apartments, not private homes, which are generally priced higher.

The Harkham brothers sold the house in 2000 to two foreign residents for about $430,000, a far lower sum than they had paid the Olmert family. About a year ago, the house was sold again, also to a foreign resident, for about $490,000 some 30 percent less than the amount the Olmert family received for it a decade earlier.

Kobi Bir, who until recently headed the Jerusalem appraisers association, said the real estate prices in Nahlaot are now the same as they were in the mid-'90s.

"There are a few facts here that are a bit surprising," he said. "The property, in the year of sale, was essentially a ruin. About 300 meters could have been built on the property. In the same period, the prices stood at $1,200-$1,500 for a meter of construction. That is, the expected worth of a property of this type should have been $450,000 to $500,000 maximum. If it was sold for $650,000, that means it was sold for $150,000 to $200,000 more than the price that Olmert should have expected in that time period."

Last week the Jerusalem Municipality approved a plan to demolish all but the facade of the house, and rebuild it.