While former prime minister Ehud Olmert and his former bureau chief Shula Zaken gained most of the headlines in the Holyland bribery case, former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski and former Bank Hapoalim chairman Dan Dankner were also two very high-profile defendants convicted in the case on Monday.
Lupolianski’s specific involvement in the affair was directing those paying the bribes to donate between NIS 2 million – NIS 2.5m.
to Yad Sarah, a charitable medical organization he founded. He did this during the mid-to-late 1990s, when he was the head of the municipal authority that could approve, hasten, or halt the Holyland project.
There was no question as to whether the state’s main witness in the case, Shmuel Duchner, and Holyland Corporation owner Hillel Cherny gave money to Yad Sarah. The question for Judge David Rozen was whether Lupolianski was aware that Duchner was “donating” the money to Yad Sarah with the intention of making sure that Lupolianski would use his influence to move forward, and even speed up, the Holyland project, regardless of any legal obstacles.
Rozen on Monday rejected Lupolianski’s claims that he was unaware that the funds given to Yad Sarah by Duchner and Cherny were in fact bribes and not donations.
He said in his decision that Lupolianski knew to a criminal level that all money given by Duchner and Cherny to the charity was connected to his help with the advancement of the Holyland project.
Seemingly to Lupolianski’s benefit in sentencing, the judge acknowledged the former mayor’s commitment to the “lofty goals” of Yad Sarah, saying that he had chosen to “sink into criminal acts in order to serve these lofty goals.”
Asked to comment, the Yad Sarah spokesman said: “Uri Lupolianski built this charitable organization that has served through the years every second Israeli family.
On this day, the Yad Sarah family remembers the positive side and the light in the life of a person and leader – and is proud of him. Uri Lupolianski led – and will continue to lead – thousands of volunteers who turned Yad Sarah into the focus of warm and encouraging humanity reaching every other family in Israel. This project of good deeds that he establish will continue daily to turn his vision into a reality of doing.”
Another high-profile defendant, Dan Dankner was convicted 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, and the bribe was designed to obtain favorable treatment for Israel Salt Industries, of which Dankner was chairman.
On March 20, 2014, the High Court of Justice criticized the deal and ruled that a nongovernmental organization – 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.”
This 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.
Rozen in his decision differentiated between legal lobbying and illegally using influence and paying money to advance business interests. He stated that Dankner’s payment to Rabin constituted the latter and the former Bank Hapoalim chairman was convicted of three counts of bribery and one count of money laundering.
Judy Siegel-Itzkovich contributed to this report.