Former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski may get off the hook in the Holyland
Lupolianski was indicted in July along with 15 others for his
involvement in the Holyland Affair, in which a wide array of top politicians
were allegedly bribed to smooth over legal and zoning problems for the Holyland
residential project in Jerusalem.
Lupolianski has denied all
If not for the fact that former prime minister Ehud Olmert is
also a defendant in the case, the outcome of the case against the mayor of the
nation’s capital would garner greater media coverage.
But his fate is
still significant and the outlook for his acquittal is getting better all the
Lupolianski’s specific alleged involvement in the affair was
directing those paying the bribes to donate between NIS 2 million to 2.5 million
to a charity he was involved in during the mid-late 1990s, when he was the head
of the municipal authority that could approve, hasten or halt the Holyland
Most public officials allegedly received bribery payments
directly to them.
Still, “S.D.” – the state’s main witness whose identity
is protected by a gag order – testified that Lupolianski’s support was crucial,
since he controlled the haredi members of the Jerusalem City Council and the
haredi vote in general – which had put Olmert in power as
According to S.D., Lupolianski was as important as Olmert in
ensuring the Holyland project could move forward.
When he met with
Lupolianski, S.D. said that he represented businessman and Holyland
Corporation owner Hillel Cherny, and eventually arrived at an understanding by
which S.D. would make donations to Yad Sarah, a charitable medical organization
that the former mayor had founded, S.D. testified in July. In exchange,
Lupolianski would make sure the Holyland project would move forward and even be
sped up, regardless of any legal obstacles, S.D. told the
But on Thursday, S.D. admitted that he did not know anything about
Yad Sarah receiving significant direct funds, including one donation of NIS
1,250,000, from Cherny.
This adds significant weight to Lupolianski’s
claim that regardless of what S.D.’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.
So while S.D. may
have thought he was bribing Lupolianski, the former Jerusalem mayor did not
believe he was “on the take.”
A News1 report of an off-the-record
exchange between the state prosecutor and Judge David Rozen reinforces the
importance of this development.
According to the report, Rozen told the
state prosecutor that he did not understand why the state had indicted
Lupolianski. He said that 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 S.D over contributing to Yad Sarah, said the
Rozen then pressed the sides to come to a plea bargain agreement
on presumably lesser charges, the report stated.
According to the report,
the state prosecutor also noted that he has always expressed a willingness to
talk to Lupolianski about a deal. The state prosecutor also reportedly said that
he knew Lupolianski should be treated differently than other defendants who are
accused of receiving personal bribes, as opposed to for a charitable
Back in November, S.D. had already been caught in a number of
contradictions during cross-examination. In one instance, he admitted that he
had no documentary proof of a specific “bribe” of NIS 120,000 which he said he
paid to Yad Sarah at Lupolianski’s request.
But the developments in the
trial over the past week suggest that it may be wise for the state to get
Lupolianski out of the case.
The state appears to have strong evidence
against some of the defendants, but the case looks increasingly weaker against
others, including Lupolianski. It may be in its best interest to drop the case
against him and focus on the areas and defendants where evidence is stronger.