Bribery case ‘penetrated authorities’

Custody of 5 suspects in Holyland corruption affair extended.

April 13, 2010 19:22
3 minute read.
The Holyland real estate project (Ariel Jerozolims

HOLYLAND 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extended the custody of five suspects, including the former head engineer of the Jerusalem Municipality and a land developer, who were arrested earlier this month by police investigating the Holyland real estate bribery investigation.

During the remand hearing on Tuesday evening, Judge Avraham Haiman, deputy president of the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, said the police investigation had uncovered “the most severe episode of corruption we have seen, which penetrated the authorities.” He added, “the severity is increased due to the involvement of senior figures, and I will not say more than that.”

According to police suspicions, between 1999 and 2008 the Holyland development company and associated land development projects, then owned by businessman Hillel Charni, paid tens of millions of shekels in bribes to senior public decision makers in the Jerusalem Municipality, members of its planning and construction committee, the Israel Lands Administration, and others, in exchange for their approval for the Holyland housing project in the capital and additional developments in the North.

Real estate developer Meir Rabin is suspected of acting as an intermediary in the alleged bribery ring.

Police say he promoted Holyland projects and passed on tens of millions in bribery money to decision makers in the Jerusalem Municipality.

On Tuesday, Haiman extended Rabin’s custody by ten days.

The police representative to court said Rabin’s involvement in the alleged offenses was “monstrous,” adding that he refused to cooperate with detectives during questioning. “As the fog lifts, things are becoming clearer,” the representative said.

Rabin’s attorney, Esther Toledan, argued that police were seeking to keep her client in custody because law enforcement officials were waiting to question former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was mayor of Jerusalem during the time of the alleged offenses, and who is scheduled to return from abroad this weekend.

Toledan’s claims were rejected by Haiman, who ruled that releasing Rabin would undoubtedly lead to a disruption of the investigation.

Haiman extended Charni’s custody by 10 more days on Tuesday, ruling that a “most solid basis of evidence exists to tie the suspect” to the alleged offenses. Haiman described Charni as the “suspect with the largest interest in the corruption affair.”

The police representative to court said “new evidence” had come to light in recent days pertaining to Charni’s role as alleged bribe-giver to “elements” in the Jerusalem Municipality, and alleged attempts by Charni to disrupt the course of the investigation.

Eliyahu Hasson, an accountant for Holyland who worked under Charni, is suspected of transferring bribery funds to officials and forging documents while attempting to hide evidence of his alleged involvement. Haiman said the evidence he studied in the form of a secret police dossier showed that Hasson “carried out all of his employer’s instructions which were criminal offenses,” and extended Hasson’s custody by nine days.

Uri Sheetrit, former chief Jerusalem Municipality engineer, is suspected of dropping his initial opposition to the Holyland project in Jerusalem and becoming a supporter of the plan after receiving very large bribes.

Haiman extended Sheetrit’s custody by nine days, ruling that his release would disrupt the investigation, and noting a “development” in the investigation into Sheetrit’s alleged role. Sheetrit was “entrusted to safeguard the public interest and scenery of the capital,” Haiman said, adding that “the severity of his offenses were great.”

Police said Sheetrit had “many opportunities” to turn down bribes, but chose to receive them at every available opportunity.

Businessman Avigdor Kelner, who managed the Polar Investments company between 1996 and 2007 and had majority stock ownership in the the Holyland Park and Zera companies, is suspected of paying hundreds of thousands of shekels in bribes via companies he owned to public officials in the Jerusalem Municipality to promote the Holyland residential development.

Citing “new developments” in the investigation into Kelner, Haiman extended his custody by nine days.

Meanwhile, new details have surfaced about a man who served as a business adviser to Charni and helped manage the Holyland development for several years.

The man, named as real estate developer Shmuel Dachner, fell out with Charni over a dispute about how much he should have been paid for his services.

According to a civil lawsuit filed by Dachner at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court last month against a company described as a loan shark, Dachner accumulated heavy debts on the gray market after managing the Holyland project.

According to the lawsuit, Charni began paying off Dachner’s gray market debtors, though in some cases the funds paid by Charni were less than the total debt, sparking the business dispute between the two men.

Dachner had threatened to sue Charni, though the latter reportedly viewed the threat as an attempt to extort him.

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