(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein announced Wednesday the state intends to annul
a controversial agreement between the Israel Lands Authority and the Dankner
family-controlled company Israel Salt Industries Ltd regarding use of plots of
land in Atlit and Eilat.
In response to a High Court of Justice petition
filed in 2003 by the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel (SPNI),
the Movement for Quality Government and the NGO Mizrachi Democratic Rainbow –
New Discourse, lawyer Aner Helman wrote on behalf of the attorney-general that
the finance minister will not approve the agreement.
addresses the highly controversial “salt deal” agreement between the ILA and the
salt company, and calls on the court to revoke it.
The deal, which caused
considerable public controversy at the time, aimed to rezone two different plots
of land in Eilat and Atlit from saltdrying pools to residential
The NGOs were prompted to file the petition when, in
October 2003, the ILA gave Israel Salt Industries 30 percent of building rights
on the Eilat plot and 50% of rights on the Atlit plot – and also gave Dankner’s
company the rights to a third tract of land for a salt plant.
potential value of the land following its rezoning for residential construction
projects was estimated as being far in excess of its value as salt-drying pans,
and most of the income from the plots would go to the Dankner family via Israel
However, the agreement never went into force because the
finance minister never signed it. In 2006, then acting prime minister Ehud
Olmert who was also finance minister at that time, agreed to sign the ILA
decision approving the deal, but withdrew his signature when the High Court
issued an injunction saying Olmert could not approve the deal since he was
technically chairman of the ILA.
The “salt deal” hit the headlines once
again in April 2010 when the Movement for Quality Government asked the court to
finally begin hearing the petition, after police arrested Danny Dankner, head of
Israel Salt Industries, and Yaakov Efrati, former director of the ILA over
alleged bribery and corruption connected with the “salt deal.”
suspected Dankner of paying about NIS 1.3 million in bribes to former ILA
chairman Efrati, to ensure the land in Atlit and Eilat could be converted into
profitable real estate developments.
Two months afterwards, in June 2010,
the state told the High Court the police investigation into the Holyland real
estate scandal was linked to the so-called “salt deal” because several of the
individuals involved in the Holyland affair were also involved in the Salt
Industries scandal. As a result, the High Court delayed any further hearings
into the petition.
In May this year, the Tel Aviv district attorney’s
office notified six companies, among them Israel Salt Industries, that it may
file indictments against them, subject to a hearing, regarding their alleged
involvement in the Holyland affair.
However, the petitioners argued that
the court should hear the civil case, despite the criminal
In September, the court issued an injunction ordering the
state to “present an explanation regarding why it has not made any decision
about the validity of the agreement between the ILA and Israel Salt
In the state’s response to the High Court on Wednesday,
lawyer Aner Helman wrote on behalf of the attorney-general the ILA’s decision to
approve the agreement was invalid because the finance minister had never
approved it. The state suspected, Helman continued, that there had been “serious
flaws” in the decision-making process and added that “the attorney-general has
come to the conclusion that there is no alternative but to bring the entire
agreement for reexamination and rediscussion.”
The state also informed
the High Court that the state attorney’s office has sent letters to various
individuals involved in the agreement, including former ILA chairman Yaakov
Efrati, summoning them to a hearing and informing them of the state’s intent to
prosecute them subject to that hearing, although of course no decision has yet
been made as to whether anyone will be indicted over the affair.
response, SPNI welcomed the court’s decision.
“SPNI congratulates the
state on taking the right decision, finally, after many years of being dragged
from defect to defect, from bad to worse, in terms of the salt ponds deal,” SPNI
lawyer Hagit Helmer said.