Holyland Bribe Case Stretches Far and Deep Into Suspects' Pockets

When State Prosecutor Moshe Lador signed a state witness deal in January with one of the key figures in the bribery cases that were made public recently, he already had a clear picture of the story in its entirety.

The piece of data that amazed the prosecutors and the police investigators who have been busy in the past few months piecing together the extent of the affair - described in court as the biggest bribery case in Israel's history - is that as a result of bribes, some 1,200 percent more construction was authorized on the original Holyland property. In short, 12 times more than the normally authorized amount.

Both police and prosecutors recognized quickly that only large bribes, over time, to many officials in offices ranging from the municipality and the Israel Lands Administration, could have contributed to making such massive changes in the plans for the project.

Based on the investigative materials, the authorization process for such a complex project was such that tens of millions of shekels in bribes were necessary in order to convince public figures and officials to authorize it over the objections of professionals.

In some cases, the final decision went against the original decision of some of the suspects, clearly fueled by the bribes they took.

The suspects pushed the project forward, expanding it substantially and altering its original purpose - from a hotel compound to residential units.

Investigators believe that the bribes began during the first half of the 1990s.

Jerusalem businessman Hillel Charney controlled the land on which the ambitious Holyland project was to be erected, and began advancing the project - at one point selling off some of the property.

He employed Eliyahu Hasson as an accountant in the firm. Hasson was the financial comptroller of the firm and is suspected of carrying out the accounting work necessary for paying the bribes to other suspects, through intermediaries.

The police have pinpointed a number of go-betweens who moved bribes between the firms controlled by Charney to Jerusalem municipal officials and persons at the Israel Land's Administration in return for pushing the Holyland project through.

Attorney Uri Messer, who has been a close aide of Olmert's, is suspected of passing on bribes to him when Olmert was Jerusalem mayor and later industry and trade minister.

One of the intermediaries is believed to be Meir Rabin, a businessman and an ultra-Orthodox land developer who is suspected of passing large sums of cash to figures in the municipality, including the city engineer during 2001-2006, Uri Sheetrit.

Another suspect is Amram Benizri, who worked in the Israel Lands Administration at the time the project was organized, and is suspected of serving as a pipeline for the bribes to ILA figures.

Police also suspect that Charney continued to bribe figures in ILA to push through the Manara Cliff project.

The case of former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski is indicative of the complexity of the bribery and the path the money took on its way to the municipality.

Lupolianski is suspected of having received NIS 3 million in bribes in return for helping the Holyland project along..