Second Olmert Aide Held in New Corruption Case

Olmert confidant Avigdor Kelner arrested over suspicions he bribed Jerusalem municipal officials.

A second aide to former prime minister Ehud Olmert was arrested Thursday in connection with a large-scale corruption case, a day after it emerged that another ally of the ex-premier was arrested earlier this week.

Avigdor Kelner, a prominent businessman and friend of Olmert, was arrested Thursday over suspicions he bribed Jerusalem municipal officials through various firms under his ownership to further the Holy Land construction project in Jerusalem.

On Tuesday police arrested Uri Messer, Olmert's close confidant and former attorney, along with five others over alleged bribery and fraud in major building projects.

According to the charges against him, Messer - arrested alongside Jerusalem's former chief engineer Uri Sheetrit - is suspected of wrongdoing in connection with Holy Land and the Tzuk Manara project in northern Israel, as well in dealings with the agricultural firm HaZera.

A Rishon Letzion court later extended Messer's arrest by six days. Another three detainees were remanded for an extra eight days, with one more placed under house arrest.

Police reportedly also raided the offices of Polar Investments, which owns the Holy Land project and is run by Uri Shani, a former head of the Prime Minister's Office under Olmert's predecessor, Ariel Sharon. Trade in the company's shares on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange was suspended following the raid.

Late last year, the State Prosecutor's Office announced Messer would not face charges over another corruption scandal, the 'investment center affair', for which Olmert is also standing trial.

The affair, first reported in Haaretz, raised allegations that during his term as minister of trade, employment and industry, Olmert granted personal favors to Messer - constituting a conflict of interest, breach of trust and fraud.

The Jerusalem District Court on Thursday decided to postpone legal proceeding against Olmert by a month, to avoid muddling different corruption allegations together in a single trial.

Olmert's defense attorney earlier Thursday asked the court to halt the trial until the investigation into the newly revealed corruption case is complete.