Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Convicted of Accepting Bribes in Holyland Case

Olmert convicted in one of the largest corruption scandals ever exposed in Israel; Judge: Olmert lied to the court.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Ehud Olmert, pictured after the Holyland trial verdict on March 31, faces six years behind bars.
Ehud Olmert, pictured after the Holyland trial verdict on March 31, faces six years behind bars.Credit: Reuters
Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was convicted Monday of accepting bribes in the Holyland corruption case.

Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen convicted Olmert of accepting bribes when he served as mayor of Jerusalem in exchange for helping the developers of the Holyland Park residential project in the city. Shula Zaken, Olmert's former bureau chief, was also convicted of accepting bribes on Monday.

Olmert had denied wrongdoing in the Holyland apartment complex deal, as well as other corruption allegations that forced his resignation as premier in 2008.

According to a summary of Monday's 700-page verdict provided by the Justice Ministry, Judge David Rozen found Olmert guilty of two bribery charges and said he accepted 560,000 shekels ($160,000) from developers of the Holyland project.

Prosecutors had alleged he received more than 800,000 shekels, but he was acquitted on two other corruption charges.

The court ruled that lawyers will present their arguments for sentencing in the case on April 28. Olmert, 68, will appeal the verdict, his spokesman Jacob Galanti said.

"Olmert tried to tarnish the name of the state witness and told lies in court," Judge Rozen said. "I reject Olmert's account of events entirely."

"The state witness bought the services of Ehud Olmert - he transferred NIS 500,000 to Yossi Olmert (Olmert's brother) following Ehud Olmert's request," the judge said.

Separate verdicts were issued for the trial's thirteen suspects. Hillel Cherney, owner of the Holyland complex, was convicted of bribing Jerusalem officials, as was Meir Rabin, right-hand man to state witness Shmuel Dechner. Avigdor Kellner, one of the founders of "Holyland Park" company, was convicted of bribery charges but acquitted of other offenses.

Uri Lupolianski, who served as mayor of Jerusalem after Olmert's tenure was over, was convicted of accepting bribes, as was Uri Sheetrit, the capital's former chief engineer.

Yaakov Efrati, the head of the Israel Land Administration, was acquitted, as were Amnon Safran and Shimon Galon, managers at the "Holyland Park" company.

At the end of the discussion, the prosecution requested a stay of exit order for all the convicted defendants in the case.

"We need time to review and analyze the verdict," Olmert's lawyer David Libai told reporters upon leaving the courtroom.

Rozen dismissed the testimony presented by Olmert's former bureau chief Shula Zaken as problematic and inconsistent. "It was clear in court that she was willing to sacrifice herself," wrote Rozen, adding that the former prime minister was well aware of Zaken's "limitless" loyalty.

In 2012, Olmert was acquitted of major charges in separate cases involving his links to a U.S. businessman while he was Jerusalem mayor and an Israeli cabinet minister.

Earlier this month, it emerged that Zaken was negotiating with prosecutors to obtain a plea bargain in exchange for turning state’s witness and providing more information. But "Zaken kept silent during the trial in Jerusalem - and paid the price for it," Rozen said, after ruling that the verdicts would not be postponed.

The verdict comes only two years after the indictments were issued against 13 defendants in one of the largest corruption scandals ever exposed in Israel. Rozen heard the case at a very fast pace, holding hearings three to four times a week. The evidentiary stage ended in November, after 9,000 pages of transcripts, 800 exhibits by the prosecution and 500 by the defense.

Reuters contributed to this report

Decision time has come in the corruption case of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Credit: Amit Shabi
Ehud Olmert before hearing the Holyland trial verdict. Tel Aviv, March 31, 2014.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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