Former PM Ehud Olmert Indicted Over Holyland Scandal

State Prosecution indicts Olmert, who is suspected of taking bribes to advance various real estate ventures, in one of the largest corruption scandals in Israel's history.

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Ehud Olmert in court on July 13, 2010.
Ehud Olmert in court on July 13, 2010.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and 17 others were indicted on Thursday in the so-called Holyland case, for allegedly giving or receiving bribes to advance various real estate ventures.

Almost two years after one of the largest corruption scandals in Israel's history first erupted, indictments in the case are due to be filed on Thursday.

In March 2011, the prosecution announced that it had enough evidence to indict 18 people, including former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski and former Israel Lands Administration director Yaakov Efrati. All are suspected of giving or taking bribes to advance various real estate ventures, most notably the Holyland luxury housing project in Jerusalem. During the years when the alleged bribery occurred, Olmert was first mayor of Jerusalem and later the cabinet minister in charge of the ILA.

The key prosecution witness, a businessman identified only as S. who served as middleman for the bribes, later told the police that "in talks I held with Mayor Olmert, with chairman of the local planning and building committee Lupolianski and with members of the local committee, it was made clear to me that via the 'give and take' method, I could get [the benefits] I desired ... I want to stress: The hints were from those people to me, not the reverse, because I wouldn't have dared."

Ultimately, the developers were given huge tax breaks, additional building rights and other benefits worth tens of millions of shekels.

An aerial view of the controversial Holyland apartment complex in Jerusalem.Credit: Tal Cohen

One likely defendant - the Holyland Park Corporation, which co-owns the Holyland along with businessman Hillel Cherney - is now making a last-minute push to arrange a plea bargain under which it would admit wrongdoing and waive some of its building rights in the housing complex in exchange for not being indicted. Though the talks hit an impasse on Wednesday, they may well resume before the indictments are filed.

Lador may yet get immunity in libel case

Olmert also suffered another blow on Wednesday, when Tel Aviv District Court Judge Eitan Orenstin ordered a lower court to reconsider its decision to deny State Prosecutor Moshe Lador immunity from his libel suit.

Olmert sued Lador over a February 2011 interview with Haaretz Magazine in which Lador discussed the former premier's various cases. Olmert claimed that some of Lador's remarks were libelous and prejudicial, given that one of those cases was still under police investigation and he was standing trial in the others.

Lador argued in response that as a civil servant, he has immunity from lawsuits. But Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court Judge Riva Niv rejected this defense, saying that for a senior prosecutor to opine to the press about cases on which no court has yet ruled "could undermine the public's faith" in the courts, the prosecution and the police, and therefore, Olmert's suit should be allowed to proceed.

Lador then appealed this decision to the district court.

At Wednesday's hearing, Orenstin said that Olmert's suit "should not be taken lightly," noting that since the cases were all still under investigation or in court, Lador's claim in the interview that "the facts speak for themselves" seemed "disconnected from reality."

Nevertheless, he added, he plans to overturn Niv's decision and ask her to reconsider it.

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