Legal Analysis / Of Bribers and Bribed

Police investigation concludes 5 people gave bribes and 8 people accepted bribes in Holyland affair.

The police recommendation yesterday to indict a series of people suspected of giving and receiving bribes in the Holyland affair reinforces the sense that something is rotten in the State of Israel.

This affair is distinguished from others like it by the fact that at its center is not a high-ranking official linked to one or two other suspects. Instead, it revolves around an entire coterie of prominent municipal figures, including two former Jerusalem mayors, Ehud Olmert and Uri Lupolianski.

The police investigation has shown Jerusalem to be a city where one hand bribes the other, which then wipes the first hand clean. But proving the suspicions in court is another matter entirely, one far more complex than mere police recommendations.

The police have listed eight people suspected of accepting bribes and five suspected of giving them. The law looks more gravely at those who accept bribes, particularly if they are public servants, than those who give them: Taking bribes bears a maximum penalty of 10 years, while giving them could result in a maximum sentence of just seven years.

Bribery is often viewed as the "cardinal sin" beside which all other white-collar offenses pale, including the others mentioned in the police recommendation: forgery, fraud and breach of trust.

The police recommendation is significant despite the fact that the State Prosecutor's Office is not obligated to accept it, and must examine a case "without prejudice," in the words of former attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein.

That said, a police recommendation is generally given considerable weight. After the police recommend an indictment against a public servant on corruption charges, it is rare that the state prosecutor does not follow suit.

The State Prosecutor's Office attributes tremendous importance to police findings of the kind released yesterday. State Prosecutor Moshe Lador will decide whether to file an indictment after the suspects are granted a hearing, either with him or with the Tel Aviv district attorney charged with hearing cases of white-collar crime.

A final decision on an indictment will thus probably come only in a few months. But Lador will likely announce much earlier whether he is indeed considering an indictment, or is leaning toward closing the case.

Still, nothing in the Holyland affair is yet certain. Lador has earned a reputation as a consummate professional unafraid to close a case, as he did in 2007 - despite a police recommendation to the contrary - on allegations that Olmert had improperly sold shares in Bank Leumi.