Police to Widen Holyland Probe, Question Hundreds More

Representative says Shula Zaken, Ehud former Olmert's bureau chief may sign a plea agreement with the state.

The prosecution in the Holyland affair informed the Supreme Court yesterday that hundreds more are expected to be questioned in the corruption affair that has embroiled former prime minister Ehud Olmert and several of his associates.

The lawyer presiding over the prosecution, Liat Ben-Ari, said that an enormous amount of evidence has been collected thus far, and that the police have been instructed to wrap up the investigation as early as possible. In addition, a law-enforcement officer said that there are good chances that Shula Zaken, Olmert's bureau chief while prime minister, will sign a plea agreement with the state.

"This is an affair of unprecedented seriousness. I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said that hundreds more witnesses are expected to be questioned," Ben-Ari said.

Zaken's attorney, Micha Pettman, returned yesterday from a meeting in the United States with his client, who is expected to return to Israel over the course of next week. Zaken is currently implicated in two additional corruption affairs: the Investment Center case and the Rishon Tours double billing scandal.

The law enforcement source said Zaken is suspected of having functioned as an intermediary for bribe money destined for Olmert while he was mayor of Jerusalem and industry, trade and labor minister. Olmert is suspected of taking bribes in exchange for furthering development of the Holyland housing project in Jerusalem.

Pettman declined Haaretz's request for comment yesterday.

Charney, Kelner denied release

Also yesterday, the Supreme Court denied appeals filed by businessmen Hillel Charney and Avigdor Kelner to be released from police remand, after the two were arrested a week ago over suspicions of involvement in the Holyland affair.

Supreme Court Justice Uzi Fogelman said that the two should not be released to house arrest as "there is reason to believe that the suspects could attempt to obstruct the police investigation if released now."

Charney, the former director of the Holyland residential project, is suspected of paying the bribe to Jerusalem chief engineer Uri Sheetrit and to the mediator, legal attorney Uri Messer.

Charney was arrested on suspicion of paying hundreds of thousands of shekels to Jerusalem municipality officials.

Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court released former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski to house arrest yesterday. Lupolianski was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of accepting more than NIS 3 million (approximately $750,000) in bribes during the construction of the contentious project.

Lupolianski, who served as deputy mayor under Ehud Olmert before being voted mayor, rejected the allegations against him, saying "this was 20 years ago, I don't know why everyone suddenly remembers now. A deputy mayor has no responsibility, it's merely a title, so that it will be nice for him."

On Friday, the Petah Tikva District Court rejected an appeal submitted by Lupolianski, requesting to abort his five-day remand for alleged involvement in the Holyland case.