The state's main
witness in the Holyland Affair, whose identity remains hidden under a
gag order, testified Sunday morning that businessman Hilel Cherny
directed him to give money to a number of public officials, including
former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was the Jerusalem mayor at the
The testimony given at the Tel Aviv District Court, was
the first in a series of hearings of the state’s main witness that will
run from 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. almost every day for two weeks. The
witness is officially known only as “S.D.,” who according to reports is
the key to the case against Olmert and many of the other defendants.
also testified that Cherny asked him to become the CEO of a straw
company, saying that Cherny had to approve every action, including to
whom bribes were paid and the amount of the payments.
Until now there were only procedural
hearings, but this was the beginning and one of the most important parts of
the state's legal assault.
The 112-page indictment charges that Holyland
real estate developers paid tens of millions of shekels to public employees and
elected officials to advance the Jerusalem construction projects, including by
substantially shortening planning times, smoothing over planning objections,
rezoning land, giving tax breaks and increasing the permitted amount of
Indicted alongside Olmert are former Jerusalem mayor Uri
Lupolianski, former Jerusalem deputy mayor and city councilman Eliezer Shamhiof,
Olmert’s former bureau chief Shula Zaken, city councilman Avraham Finer and
former city engineer Uri Shetret.
Those also charged include businessman
Hilel Cherny, former Polar Investments CEO Avigdor Kelner, Polar Investments
manager Amnon Safran, Shimon Galon, the CEO of Kardan Real Estate and Jerusalem
entrepreneur Meir Rabin.
Three companies are named on the indictment:
Holyland Tayerut Ltd, Holyland Park Ltd and Holyland Leisure Services
The indictment includes charges against former chairman of Bank
Hapoalim and Israel Salt Industries Dan Dankner and former Israel Lands
Authority head Yaakov Efrati, for alleged bribery.
The indictment also
alleges bribes relating to Polar Investments’ real estate interests in Yavor
Farm, Shalem Farm and Mevchur Farm north of Kiryat Gat.
On January 5,
2012, the Tel Aviv District Court issued a gag order preventing publication of
the name and identity of the main state witness.
The order is highly
unusual because S.D. is a witness who is neither the victim, the accused nor an
undercover agent, each of who can receive gag orders in special
At an earlier hearing in January, Yediot Aharonot and
Olmert’s attorney both argued that the gag order was “ridiculous” since
information in the indictment made it easy for people to deduce S.D.’s identity,
and that these details were already in the public domain on websites such as
Rejecting these arguments, the court said that the public’s
right to know had to be balanced with concerns about the integrity of S.D.’s
testimony if his identity were revealed.
The court also referred to a
police evaluation report regarding potential threats and media harassment
directed toward S.D. if the gag order were lifted.
Most of what the
public has learned officially about S.D. came from a statement released
about half a year ago by the State Attorney's Office, which explained that
S.D. first turned to police through his lawyers in the second half of
2009. S.D. offered to reveal to the authorities everything he knew about the
Holyland real estate project and about alleged criminal offenses relating to
Israel Salt Industries, as well as Yavor, Shalem and Mevchur Farms. He did so in
order to commence civil lawsuits against others involved in the
Following S.D.’s offer, Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein
conducted negotiations with S.D.’s legal team, alongside a wide range of other
law enforcement officials.
Through his lawyers, S.D. revealed
details of the alleged corruption scandals to the state authorities. After the
state verified S.D.’s allegations, it granted him immunity and a number of other
concessions in exchange for full cooperation in prosecuting the
During the investigation, S.D. gave more than 70 statements to the
police, and handed over a large quantity of documents regarding the Holyland
Affair and Israel Salt Industries.
Besides immunity, the state gave S.D.
a free pass from the Tax Authority (the State Attorney’s Office said this was
also because S.D. has no financial resources), waived payment of fees for S.D.'s
civil suits related to the Holyland Affair and covered part of S.D.’s
Holyland-related legal civil defense expenses, in the amount of NIS 8,000 per
month, from August 2010 through June 2011. The State Attorney’s Office explained
that it was paying some of S.D.’s legal fees to help maintain S.D.’s commitment
as a state witness.
The state’s agreement with S.D. also puts him into
the witness protection program, along with financial assistance to ensure a
reasonable standard of living.
JPost.com staff contributed to this report.