Former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski was sentenced on Thursday to six years’ imprisonment after being convicted in March of bribery by Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen.
As part of the sentence, Rozen also fined Lupolianski NIS 500,000.
The ruling, the final one in Jerusalem’s Holyland trial, is considered likely to be appealed, since Lupolianski did not receive any money directly, but channeled some NIS 2 million in bribes to the respected medical charity he founded, Yad Sarah, and also because he has serious health issues. The former mayor suffered from cancer and was recently hospitalized for pneumonia.
While Rozen complimented Lupolianski for living most of his life committed to noble causes and the community, the judge said there is no escape from Lupolianski’s using his position to obtain funds for Yad Sarah in order to elevate his political status and to gain major rabbinic endorsements as mayor.
On June 9, Rozen had clearly signaled that despite Lupolianski’s hospitalization the previous night due to pneumonia, he would sentence him to prison under the law.
Lupolianski’s lawyer, Amos Van-Emden, had asked the court to sentence Lupolianski on June 9 despite his being absent. Furthermore, he said, the expert medical report he presented to the court proved that imprisoning Lupolianski could endanger his life.
Rozen discounted Van-Emden’s report, saying that two top medical experts working for the Prisons Service had certified that Lupolianski’s health condition is routinely treated by prison physicians and he could thus not rule that Lupolianski is too sick for jail.
Rozen had previously implied that Lupolianski’s poor health, combined with the fact that he had not pocketed bribes but given the money to Yad Sarah, might lead to a more lenient sentence. However, as the state requested six years’ imprisonment and Lupolianski pressed for acquittal without a plea bargain, Rozen handed down a stiff sentence – the same jail term given to former prime minister Ehud Olmert for bribery in the same Holyland scandal.
Hundreds of volunteers called Yad Sarah headquarters in disbelief on Thursday when they learned of Lupolianski’s sentence.
Many said the sentence conflicted with all that Judge Rozen had said during the trial.
“We are sure that the sentence will be overturned in the Supreme Court,” said Moshe Cohen, Yad Sarah’s CEO, who has been involved in the organization for 20 years.
Lupolianski had directed those paying bribes – such as Shmuel Duchner and Holyland Corporation owner Hillel Cherny – to public officials to get around zoning barriers for the southern Jerusalem real-estate project to donate between NIS 2 million and NIS 2.5m. to Yad Sarah.
He did this during the mid-tolate 1990s, when he was a top Jerusalem official who could approve, hasten, or halt the Holyland project.
Rozen rejected Lupolianski’s claim that he was unaware that the funds given to Yad Sarah by Duchner and Cherny were bribes.
The prosecution’s economic crimes unit responded to the sentence with satisfaction, noting that a “significant prison sentence” was appropriate for the severity of Lupolianski’s crime. It said that the bribery money that Lupolianski solicited was the largest amount in the entire case, including five times more than the bribery funds Olmert was convicted of receiving.
The statement also said that, despite the fact that Lupolianski’s bribery funds went directly to Yad Sarah, the court had noted that he benefited politically by taking credit for the transfer of the funds.
Finally, the statement said that once its medical experts said that his cancer condition could be handled by prison medical personnel, there was no reason to keep him out of prison.
Neither Lupolianski nor his wife, Michal, who established Yad Sarah’s first medical-equipment lending station in their modest apartment over three decades ago, broke down when they heard the sentence.
“They are strong people with strong faith in God. They believe the sentence will be overturned,” said Cohen. He added, “They believe that everything God does is for the good.”
The Lupolianskis have 12 adult children and many grandchildren.
Lupolianski sincerely believes he is innocent, said Cohen, and that no bribery was involved in his accepting money for the popular organization.
Yad Sarah, with 103 branches and thousands of volunteers around the country, offers a wide variety of services to the elderly, sick, and disabled. Lupolianski, a former haredi (ultra-Orthodox) mayor of Jerusalem, goes to its Jerusalem headquarters on Sderot Herzl almost every day and is actively involved in its management, Cohen said.
Lupolianski recently recovered from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but his treatment completely knocked out his immune system, said Cohen, so he easily catches infections. He just returned home from hospital, where he was treated for pneumonia that resulted from his body’s weak immune system.
“The court knows about his health problems, so I don’t know how it would send him to prison,” Cohen said.
Despite the bad publicity that Yad Sarah and its president suffered over the past year or so, the organization has “not suffered any decline” in donations, said Cohen. But as Lupolianski’s lawyers’ fees are very expensive, a completely independent trust fund was established to help cover the costs.
“People continue to identify so much with Yad Sarah, which assists hundreds of thousands of people each year,” said the CEO.
“Now that Lupolianski will appeal to the higher court, more money will be needed over the coming months.”