Police suspect former prime minister Ehud Olmert of accepting large amounts of cash in bribes from businessmen backing the Holyland real estate development, and believe the funds were transferred via his former bureau head, Shula Zaken, it emerged during a remand hearing for Zaken on Monday evening.
Zaken was arrested on Monday afternoon after touching down at Ben-Gurion Airport from Los Angeles. She was taken for approximately half an hour of questioning at the National Fraud Unit headquarters in Lod before being brought to court.
According to the police representative to the court, Ch.-Supt. Lior Rice, Zaken acted as a “main pipeline” for bribe money destined for Olmert when the latter was Jerusalem mayor and minister of industry, trade and labor. During that time, she “had significant and decisive influence on procedures in the Jerusalem Municipality and the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry,” said Rice.RELATED:Flipping Holyland the birdEditorial: Corruption in proportionInternal Affairs: Closing the gateway to corruptionAnalysis: Zaken and Olmert through thick and thin
Businessmen including Holyland backer Hillel Charni allegedly sent the bribes to ensure that an enlarged Holyland housing development would receive approval, as would other real estate developments, including the Tzuk Menara plan in the Galilee and projects by the Zera company.
In addition, Zaken is suspected of “conspiring” with former Olmert aide attorney Uri Messer – who was arrested this month in connection with the Holyland investigation – to launder the funds “in sophisticated ways” by producing fictitious receipts to disguise the transfer.
“A search conducted in Zaken’s home revealed evidence that links the suspect to bribery,” Rice said. Police seized checks and other allegedly incriminating documents from Zaken’s home during a raid earlier this month. Zaken is also suspected of “demanding bribes” and pocketing a portion of the illicit cash herself.
“Holyland’s backers had an open door” to Olmert in the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, Rice said, adding that Zaken’s activities allowed the businessmen to “increase their profits significantly.”
Zaken’s attorney, Micha Fetman, said his client was innocent of all wrongdoing, and added that “no witnesses other than the state’s witness can testify against Zaken.”
But he accused the state’s witness in the investigation of fabricating his account.
“My client is prepared to confront the state’s witness and undergo a lie detector test,” Fetman said. “She set meetings for Mr. Olmert, but did not take part in them. Therefore, she was not involved in any way.”
Earlier this month, in a televised speech, Olmert denied ever having accepted bribes
On Monday, officers made the arrest as soon as Zaken exited the aircraft and received an entry stamp from border control. In recent weeks, police focused their efforts on gathering as much evidence as possible to confront her with case material.
“It’s a shame the police acted this way,” Zaken told reporters in court. “I didn’t expect this, officers waiting for me at the airport.”
Zaken also blasted the media’s coverage of the police investigation, saying it “made one not want to cooperate with the police.” She was cooperating with the police, she quickly added.
“I have nothing to run away from. If the court rules that I did something wrong, I will pay for it. I have nothing to hide,” Zaken said.
Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court Judge Avraham Haiman said there was good reason to believe Zaken would undermine the investigation if she was released and extended her remand by seven days.
Earlier, attorney Giora Zilberstein, who represents a main Holyland suspect, property developer Meir Rabin, said the police had accused his client of passing on illegal funds to figures including Shas leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Zilberstein made the explosive comments after the Petah Tikva District Court rejected an appeal by Rabin against an extension of his remand.
“Recently, the police have tried to break my client in all sorts of ways and make him confess to offenses he did not commit,” Zilberstein said. “My client has been accused... of paying NIS 1 million to Ovadia Yosef, of bribing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, [Kadima] MK Ruhama Avraham and former [Likud] MK Danny Naveh. My client denies all accusations and says they have no basis.”
The remarks drew fiery condemnations of the police, as well as denials. Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev described Yosef as a great Torah scholar who had been slandered, adding that the comments were “very severe.”
A statement released by Lieberman’s bureau described the allegations as “nonsense which does not deserve a response.”
Avraham also said the allegations were slanderous, adding that she had never met Rabin.
“I plan to ask my lawyers to examine this nonsense and file a criminal complaint over slander against anyone who makes this unfounded and imaginary claim,” she said.
Naveh said said only a “wild imagination” could link his name with the Holyland investigation.
Following Zilberstein’s comments, police released a statement saying they had “no intention of responding to the remarks,” and that Zilberstein alone bore responsibility for his statements.
“The names mentioned by the attorney did not appear in official statements by the Israel Police or in remand hearings. Zilberstein’s comments were not attributed to the police, its investigators, or any of its representatives,” the statement added.
Rabin was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of passing on tens of millions in bribery money to decision-makers in the Jerusalem Municipality in exchange for receiving approval for the enlarged and controversial residential development overlooking the capital’s Malha neighborhood.
He is also suspected of mediating between former Bank Hapoalim chairman Dan Dankner and former Israel Lands Authority head Ya’acov Efrati and passing on bribe money, resulting in the two men’s arrests.