Police Expand Holyland Probe

Beit Shemesh official arrested, remanded for five days.

Now that the investigation into bribery allegations in the Holyland Park project is winding down, police detectives from the national fraud squad are turning their attention to possible improprieties in the local and district planning committees' approval of other building projects in Jerusalem.

Sources in law enforcement say that while these projects were smaller than the massive Holyland project, in which former prime minister Ehud Olmert is suspected of taking bribes, the bribery mechanism was similar.

Holyland residential development
Daniel Bar On

Beit Shemesh town manager Motti Hota was arrested yesterday in connection to the Holyland allegations and was ordered to remain in custody for five days. Hota, 50, was chairman of the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee from 1999-2004, when the plans for Holyland were approved. Investigators suggested that he could be charged with bribery, money laundering, conspiracy to commit a crime, fraud and breach of trust.

Other members of the district committee are expected to face arrest over the next several days. Investigators suspect that Hota's relatively long reign as committee chairman suggests that he was involved in promoting additional projects. The police believe he was a primary conduit for bribes for many years.

Police suspect that during his time as chairman, Hota supported Holyland throughout the approval process and received money from various middlemen, including Meir Rabin, another suspect, who was also a neighbor of Hota's.

Hota's attorney, Avi Udiz, argued at yesterday's remand hearing that his continued detention was unnecessary. Udiz said his client had ample opportunity to obstruct the investigation prior to his arrest, which was widely predicted in the media. The police representative at the hearing confirmed that Hota had not attempted to obstruct the investigation in the two weeks before his arrest.

In announcing his decision to extend Hota's detention by five days, the judge spoke of the importance of preventing the obstruction of the long and complex investigation "that is far from over."

Many high-ranking Jerusalem officials, Olmert and Uri Lupolianski, his successor as mayor of Jerusalem, have become embroiled in the Holyland investigation.

Police suspect that the Holyland Development Company and associated land developers paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to senior officials in the Jerusalem municipality, the district planning and building committee and the Israel Lands Administration between 1999 and 2008.

Olmert has yet to be questioned in the affair.

As reported in Haaretz on Friday, the police and the prosecution have begun to bring into the investigation officials from the Israel Tax Authority and the Israel Money Laundering and Terror Financing Prohibition Authority in an attempt to locate bribe monies they suspect were deposited in bank accounts abroad. Prosecutors have also begun drafting requests to foreign authorities, particularly in the United States, as part of their search for the paper trail they expect to find.