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Olmert faces corruption charges over property deal

Last Updated: Friday, April 16, 2010 - 16:08

Jerusalem: Close on the heels of three suspected cases of graft, which cost him the premiership, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert is now allegedly involved in what is being dubbed as the "biggest corruption scandal" in the history of Israel.

The Rishon Letzion Magistrate`s Court has lifted its gag order on the identity of the `senior official` suspected of taking bribes in the real estate scandal being described as the "Holyland affair”, after the name of the highrise buildings, revealing the suspect to be none other than Olmert, who served as mayor of Jerusalem from 1993-2003, daily Ha`aretz reported today.

In the new case, the former premier is suspected of taking at least 3.5 million Israeli Shekels (almost 4 crore rupees) in bribes in exchange for furthering development of the Holyland luxury housing project in Jerusalem.

Police reportedly said that the suspicions against him are "grave and well-founded".

Olmert is suspected of having taken bribes both as mayor of Jerusalem and as Industry, Trade and Labour minister, a post he held from 2003-2006. As industry minister, he presided over both the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) and the Small Business Administration which gave him the authority to help the developers.

Police suspect that Olmert used his position as mayor in the 1990s to get municipal officials, both elected and appointed, to approve the Holyland project in the format requested by the entrepreneur, businessman Hillel Charney.

Among other things, Olmert allegedly helped to secure the project`s approval by the local planning and building committee and to remove various other bureaucratic obstacles, the report said.

Charney allegedly continued bribing Olmert after the latter moved from the mayor`s office to the Industry Ministry. In exchange, police suspect, Olmert, in his role as head of the ILA, got senior administration officials to remove hindrances from the path of another Charney real estate project, the Tzuk Manara project in the Galilee Panhandle.

In addition to Charney, Olmert is also suspected of taking indirect bribes from another businessman, Avigdor Kelner, who is currently under arrest.

Attorney Uri Messer, a close friend of the former prime minister, allegedly served as the main conduit for the bribes, with Olmert`s former bureau chief, Shula Zaken, serving as a secondary conduit.

Police suspect that some of the bribe money Olmert allegedly received from Charney came in the form of financing for his legal expenses in an earlier case, involving the use of fake invoices in the Likud party`s 1988 election campaign.

The former prime minister, who later switched to the Kadima party, was Likud`s treasurer at the time, but was ultimately acquitted in that case.

The Holyland bribes were allegedly paid in the form of checks made out to "self" and endorsed by the payer, which enabled them to then be deposited in any bank without leaving a money trail.

Police suspect that the checks were usually given to Messer, ostensibly for "legal services”, and that most of the money was then transferred to Olmert, with Messer retaining a small portion for himself.

PTI

First Published: Friday, April 16, 2010 - 16:08
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