Former PM Ehud Olmert Indicted for Taking Bribes in Holyland Case

Olmert charged with taking bribes worth NIS 1.5 million during his term as Jerusalem mayor and later as industry minister, when he was responsible for the Israel Lands Administration.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was one of 16 people indicted in the Tel Aviv District Court yesterday in one of the largest corruption cases in Israel's history.

Several former senior officials in the Jerusalem municipality and prominent businessmen were also charged in the so-called Holyland case, which involved businessmen bribing senior municipal and state officials to advance various real estate ventures, most notably the Holyland luxury housing complex in Jerusalem.

Ehud Olmert

Olmert was charged with taking bribes worth NIS 1.5 million during his term as mayor of the capital and later as industry minister, when he was responsible for the Israel Lands Administration.

His office manger, Shula Zaken, was charged with money laundering and taking bribes worth NIS 300,000.

The man charged with paying most of the bribes was Hillel Charney, the businessman behind the Holyland project. Dan Dankner, the former chairman of Israel Salt Industries and former deputy chairman of Bank Hapoalim, is the most prominent of the businessmen charged with bribing officials.

Former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski was also charged with taking bribes, in the form of a NIS 1.5 million donation to Yad Sarah, the well-known charity he founded. Others indicted for bribe-taking include Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Eliezer Shamhiof, former city councilman Avraham Finer, former municipal engineer Uri Shetrit and former ILA director Yaakov Efrati.

Those charged with paying the bribes include Avigdor Kelner, a former senior official of the Polar group, which co-owned the Holyland Park corporation; Amnon Safran, acting manager of Holyland Park; Shimon Galon, CEO of the Kardan company, which co-owned Holyland Park with Polar; and Meir Rabin, a middleman who is friends with or related to several of the alleged bribe-takers. Rabin is also charged with taking bribes and mediating bribes.

The indictment combines three separate cases whose common denominator is that all involved bribing public officials to promote real estate ventures.

In the Holyland case, the developers are accused of bribing various Jerusalem officials both to speed approval of the project and to grant the project various benefits, including reductions on taxes and fees and a substantial increase in the number of apartments the developers were allowed to build. Ultimately, the project was slated to include more than 1,000 apartments.

Together with a businessman known only as S., who is the key prosecution witness, Charney allegedly bribed various city officials from 1994-2007, using Rabin as an intermediary. In 1999, after Charney had gotten the land in question rezoned for residential use (it was originally earmarked for hotels ) and secured approval to increase the number of apartments in the project, he sold part of the land to the Holyland Park corporation, which is also a defendant in the case.

From 2003-2007, Holyland Park, with the active involvement of Kelner, Safran, Galon and S., paid additional bribes to Jerusalem officials to speed approval of the project.

In the second case covered by the indictment, Kelner and Safran are accused of bribing ILA officials, as well as Olmert, who was then industry minister, and Zaken, to get farmland owned by the Hazera seed company rezoned to make it more valuable. From 2002-2005, they allegedly gave Rabin and S. NIS 1.7 million to pay to various officials as bribes. Olmert and Zaken are charged with receiving benefits worth NIS 200,000 in total.

The third case involves Israel Salt Industries' attempt to rezone lands it owned near Atlit and Eilat. The properties had been earmarked for the company's salt-production business, but Dankner, then the chairman, wanted it rezoned for residential, tourist and commercial use.

Dankner is charged with giving Rabin NIS 1.1 million to bribe Efrati, the ILA director, to approve the rezoning. But Efrati is charged with receiving a much lower sum: "no less than" NIS 45,000.

Yesterday's indictment is the fruit of a massive investigation involving more than 150 police officers as well as investigators from the Tax Authority.