Analysis: Uri Messer is the link

Disclosure of scandal sheds light on state’s request to change order of hearings in trial of former PM Olmert.

By DAN IZENBERG
April 8, 2010 01:24
2 minute read.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert talks to the pre

olmert court 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

On Thursday at 9:30 a.m., Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel is due to tell the court why he made his dramatic request two days earlier to change the order of the charges that are to be heard in the trial of Ehud Olmert.

Abarbanel’s announcement, however, will only come as half a surprise, given the disclosure on Wednesday of the arrest of Uri Messer, the former prime minister’s right-hand man for decades before the two severed their ties over the Talansky affair. Four other suspects, including former Jerusalem city engineer Uri Sheetrit, were also arrested and remanded in custody.

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Related: Uri Messer is the link

Each is suspected of participating in one or more bribery and money-laundering schemes involving three development projects, the largest of which is the huge Holyland apartment complex constructed near the historic Holyland Hotel in Jerusalem.

That project, which allegedly involved millions of shekels in bribes, was approved by the Jerusalem Municipality when Olmert served as mayor.

At this point in the Holyland investigation, given a court-imposed gag order, all that can be said is that the common denominator between the new affair and the Olmert trial is Uri Messer.

As matters stand now, Messer is slated to be the state’s key witness in two of the cases for which Olmert is standing trial – the Talansky affair and the Investment Center affair.

Under interrogation, Messer informed police investigators that he had kept hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and checks belonging to Olmert in a safe in his office and later in a bank safety deposit box. At least some of that money was allegedly given to Olmert by Talansky.

In the Investment Center affair, Olmert was accused of favoring Messer’s clients, who applied to the Investment Center for state grants and other benefits when he served as industry, trade and labor minister.

According to the trial schedule, these two affairs were to be heard in court first. Only afterward was the Rishontours affair to come before the judges. Messer is not involved in the Rishontours affair. That is why the state is now asking for Rishontours to be heard first.

As one Justice Ministry official told The Jerusalem Post on condition of anonymity, “We have new investigative material which affects the material we have gathered up until now on the Talansky and Investment Center affairs. Therefore, we can’t move ahead on these cases for now.”

At this point, there are two facts regarding the new investigation which can be reported and which may shed some light on what to expect in the future.

The first is that fact that Messer is suspected of taking a cut and passing on the rest of the money he was given to another, unnamed suspect in the case. The money was allegedly a bribe in return for granting the developers enormously inflated building rights for the Holyland project.

The other fact is, as already indicated, that there are more suspects in the case that cannot be named at this point as a result of the court-ordered publication ban.

It will be interesting to see on Thursday morning exactly how much information Abarbanel will disclose in public on this new case, and specifically its relationship to the charges against Olmert currently being heard in court.   


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