While former prime minister Ehud Olmert and his top aide Shula Zaken have monopolized much of the Holyland trial coverage, the other defendants, including former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski and former Bank Hapoalim chairman Dan Dankner, are not too shabby either.
Olmert, Zaken, Lupolianski, Dankner and 12 others began the Holyland trial in July 2012. Their verdicts are expected today.
The affair involved a wide array of top politicians allegedly receiving bribes to “smooth over” legal and zoning problems for the Holyland residential project in southern Jerusalem.
Lupolianski and Dankner have denied all wrongdoing.
Lupolianski’s specific involvement in the affair was his alleged directing those paying the bribes to donate between NIS 2m. – 2.5 million to a charity he was involved in during the mid-to-late 1990s, when he was the head of the municipal authority that could approve, hasten, or halt the Holyland project.
Most public officials involved allegedly received direct bribery payments.
Still, Lupolianski’s support was crucial according to the state’s main witness, the late Shmuel Duchner, since he controlled the haredi members of the Jerusalem City Council and the haredi vote in general – which had put Olmert in power as mayor.
As far as Duchner was concerned, Lupolianski was as important as Olmert for ensuring that the Holyland project could move forward.
When he met with Lupolianski, Duchner said he represented businessman and Holyland Corporation owner Hillel Cherny, and eventually arrived at an understanding by which he would make donations to Yad Sarah, a charitable medical organization that the former mayor had founded.
In exchange, Lupolianski would make sure the Holyland project would move forward and even be sped up, regardless of any legal obstacles.
But under cross-examination, Duchner admitted he did not know anything about Yad Sarah receiving significant direct funds, including one donation of NIS 1,250,000, from Holyland project main investor (and Duchner’s alleged boss in running the bribery scheme) Cherny.
This adds significant weight to Lupolianski’s claim that, regardless of what Duchner’s intent was in giving money to Yad Sarah, Lupolianski did not understand the funds as bribes, as Cherny was clearly giving other funds to Yad Sarah without any strings attached.
In other words, Duchner may have thought he was bribing Lupolianski, but Lupolianski did not believe he was “on the take.”
These revelations were so significant that Judge David Rozen reportedly told the state prosecutor that he did not understand why the state had indicted Lupolianski.
He said Lupolianski was not a lawyer and could not after the fact be presumed to understand at the time the possible legal meanings of the complex interactions he had with Duchner over contributing to Yad Sarah, said a News 1 report.
Rozen then pressed the sides to come to a plea bargain agreement on presumably lesser charges, the report stated.
What’s more, noted the report, the state prosecutor responded that it was always willing to talk to Lupolianski about a deal and that it knew it had to treat him differently than other defendants who are accused of receiving personal bribes. Lupolianski is accused only of soliciting bribes for Yad Sarah, a highly acclaimed charitable organization.
In November 2012, Duchner had already been caught in a number of contradictions during cross-examination.
In one instance, he had to admit he had no documentary proof of a specific “bribe” of NIS 120,000 that he said he paid to Yad Sarah at Lupolianski’s request.
Some of the defendants the state appeared to have strong evidence against; but with others, like Lupolianski, the evidence looked continually weaker.
Dankner is accused of bribing one of Duchner’s former aides.
The aide, Meir Rabin, is a relative of Yaakov Efrati, then director of the Israel Lands Authority (ILA), and the supposed bribe was allegedly designed to obtain favorable treatment for Israel Salt Industries (ISI), of which Dankner was chairman.
On March 20, 2014, the High Court of Justice criticized the deal and made emphatic official findings that an NGO, which petitioned to block the deal, alleging improper favorable treatment for ISI, had successfully exposed “failures in the conduct of the ILA and state agencies” and caused the state to “formulate general policies for granting” in the future for the special kinds of land rights in question.
The deal had huge loopholes, including that most of the valuable land that the ILA was handing out would not even be used for developing salt-related resources, but would have improperly benefited ISI to the tune of over NIS 100 million, said the court.
In October 2013, Dankner admitted paying Rabin to help him navigate the maze of public obstacles to ISI projects, but said he wanted assistance to handle the issue in a legal manner, and flatly denied the payments were bribes.
Having paid funds directly, unlike Lupolianski, Dankner’s situation is perceived as more serious. He has also already been convicted and sentenced to jail in a separate trial.
The rest of the defendants include other top businessmen and other top former Jerusalem officials.