Supreme Court to Rule on Olmert's Holyland Corruption Appeal

Former prime minister and others asked court to revisit problematic testimony and prison sentence by Tel Aviv District Court judge.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appearing in the Supreme Court, a year ago. He was convicted in the Holyland case of accepting bribes and received a stiff jail sentence in a Tel Aviv District Court ruling.
Noam Moskowitz

A panel of five Supreme Court justices is due to rule Tuesday on appeals submitted to it in connection with the Holyland corruption case. Among the high-ranking officials involved in the case are former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was indicted for taking bribes while serving as mayor of Jerusalem, and his successor Uri Lupolianski.

The appeals were submitted by a group of individuals convicted earlier in the affair, in which land developers paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to senior officials in the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israel Lands Administration, to develop the capital’s Holyland luxury housing project beginning in 1999.

The appellants asked the Supreme Court to reconsider a September 2014 decision by Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen to impose heavy punishment on them, including jail terms ranging from three to seven years. The defendants' appeal also stressed the need for revisiting the problematic nature of state witness Shmuel Dechner’s testimony in the case; they charge that they were denied the opportunity to cross-examine Dechner due to his untimely death.

Following Rozen's harsh ruling, the Supreme Court had deferred sending the convicted men to prison on their request.

The court's decision Tuesday by five justices will come a year after they originally heard the appeals in question, filed by Olmert; Lupolianski; businessman Danny Dankner, former municipal engineer Uri Shitrit; former city councillor Eliezer Simchaioff; developers Hillel Cherney and Avigdor Kelner; and Meir Rabin, assistant to deceased state witness Dechner.

The convicted men also requested a deferment from paying the heavy fines imposed on them as part of the sentence meted out by Rozen in September last year.

For his part, Supreme Court Justice Noam Sohlberg subsequently ruled that while their imprisonment could be postponed, there was no reason to defer payment of the fines. He declared that the appeals would be heard within three months, but hinted that the chances of success were slim, describing the Holyland case as a “saga of serious corruption.”

Moreover, Sohlberg stated that based on previous Supreme Court rulings, it could be argued that there was no justification for postponing the sentence, but noted that his decision was based on the exceptional nature of the case.

“This is not a routine case," he said at the time, "not just due to the severity of the bribe-taking offenses and everything associated with them, as well as the blatant corruption which is so damaging – but also due to the scope and complexity of the trial.”