Former Olmert Aide Remanded as Corruption Evidence Mounts

Attorney Uri Messer, suspected of mediating bribes, to be kept in custody for another five days.

Uri Messer, the aide to former prime minister Ehud Olmert at the center of an alleged bribery scandal, was remanded into custody on Sunday for five more days.

The vice president of the Rishon LeZion Magistrate Court ruled that there was sufficient new investigative material linking Messer to the suspicions against him, and expressed the concerns of the police that there is a real possibility that he would disrupt the investigation if allowed free on bail.

Messer is suspected of mediating large sums of money paid as bribes to a senior figure in connection with the Holyland residential development in Jerusalem and other large construction projects.

Court deliberations revealed yesterday that police had considered releasing Messer to house arrest and discussed the option with the suspect and his defense attorney, Shimon Dolan. However, several hours later the police rejected the possibility, claiming "new evidence."

"It is hard to shake the feeling that there is a link between Messer's arrest and the arrival of a senior figure to Israel," Dolan said. He added that "it is strange that the police approved the release of Messer on bail and two - three hours later they claim to have new evidence overturning the decision. It is strange that for months of secret investigation there was no evidence linking Messer to the Holyland affair, and in a few days indirect evidence was found on this."

The judge was upset with the "humorous tone" that Messer took when he gave his version of events regarding the suspicions against him. Dolan said that "after it was clear to Messer that he was being released he joked with the investigator in a lighter atmosphere, and this was misunderstood by the court."

The other suspects under arrest in the affair are expected in court tomorrow. Among these are former Jerusalem city engineer Uri Sheetrit, Hillel Charney, a businessman and former owner of the property on which the project was built, and the project's accountant, Eliyahu Hasson.

Also expected to be brought for a hearing on their remand tomorrow is businessman Avigdor Kelner, who also has ties to Olmert. Kelner was arrested Thursday.

In an interview on Army Radio, Olmert, who was mayor of Jerusalem a decade ago, expressed "concern at the atmosphere and the attempts to cause a sense of persecution, which I think is out of place."

The former prime minister rejected any suggestions of wrongdoing.