A senior Jerusalem councilman on Thursday morning said he suspected the Holyland real estate affair was “just the start” and called on authorities to investigate a number of other massive building projects he believes may be tainted with corruption.
Councilman Meir Turgeman, the head of the opposition faction in the Jerusalem municipal council, told Israel Radio he fears plans to build at the YMCA compound, the Gilo Uptown project and Mamilla neighborhood might have been approved in return for kickbacks.
For news analysis on the Holyland corruption case click here
On Wednesday, the police investigation into suspected massive bribery
in the Holyland real estate affair took a dramatic turn when detectives
from the National Fraud Unit arrested former Jerusalem mayor Uri
Lupolianski on suspicion of accepting more than NIS 3 million in bribes
to ensure that the housing plan was approved, and of money laundering.
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
through intermediaries 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 Malha
neighborhood and additional developments in the North.
was deputy mayor and chairman of the municipality’s planning and
construction committee between 1993 and 2003, when the Holyland plan
was approved. He went on to become a member of the National Building
and Planning Committee when he was mayor from 2003 to 2008.
According to police suspicions, by 1999, Lupolianski had accepted NIS 1.5m. in bribes that he received “though another suspect.”
illicit money was allegedly transferred to Lupolianski in the form of a
donation to the Yad Sarah charity for disabled and elderly people,
which he founded in 1976.
A Yad Sarah representative released a
statement on Wednesday saying that the organization had “nothing to do
with the Holyland affair and has never taken a bribe.”
A second alleged transfer of bribes took place between 2006 and 2008, when the Lupolianski allegedly received NIS 1.4m.
a remand hearing held for Lupolianski at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s
Court on Wednesday evening, the police representative, Ch.-Supt. Lior
Rice, said additional instances of bribery were being investigated,
including the transfer of $30,000 to Lupolianski, which he allegedly
paid to political field activists to help secure his 2003 mayoral
election win. Police also suspect Lupolianski accepted NIS 100,000 in
bribes in 2005, as a “donation” to a religious educational center
managed by his son.
In return for the cash, police suspect,
Lupolianski exploited his positions to promote an enlarged version of
the Holyland project within the municipal Construction and Planning
Committee, and resisted calls to lower the height of the Holyland
residential towers by two stories. He also allegedly helped ensure that
almost 1,000 objections to the plan were overruled.
was supposed to safeguard the public interest, but in reality he
strayed from it,” Rice said. “He saved the project’s backers millions
of shekels in expenses and led to the expansion of the project and a
significant increase in profit for its backers.”
Judge Avraham Haiman of the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extended Lupolianski’s custody by five days.
to Channel 10 News on Tuesday, Lupolianski appeared to attempt to shift
responsibility to former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was mayor of
Jerusalem between 1993 and 2003 – when Holyland was approved.
“The mayor is the one who decides, that is the truth,” Lupolianski said. “The deputy mayor has no responsibility.”
attorney, Yair Golan, said his client had denied all suspicions against
him, had consistently presented receipts for donations received to Yad
Sarah and did not attempt to hide the identity of donors.
anticipating an invitation to the police interrogation room, Olmert cut
short a trip abroad and arrived in Israel on Wednesday night, where he
is reportedly set to be questioned over the Holyland bribery
“In light of the growing number of reports,
according to which police are seeking to question Olmert on his alleged
involvement in the Holyland affair, Olmert decided to return to Israel
tonight,” a statement released by Olmert’s spokesman, Amir Dan, said on
“Olmert denies any link to the affair, but has
publicly stated last week that he is available for any questioning,”
the statement said. “We’ve already seen how large headlines at the
start of an investigation change radically with time, when the real
facts begin to come to light,” it continued.
A source associated with Olmert told The Jerusalem Post
on Wednesday that the ex-premier was keen to avoid giving the impression that he was “evading questioning.”
Wednesday night, Israel Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen spoke at an award
ceremony for police excellence held at Tel Aviv University, and
described the alleged corruption affair as “widespread and very
“Corruption within the authorities undermines the
foundations of a state built on the rule of law,” he said. Public
officials suspected of corruption in the investigation abused their
power and exploited their public office “for their own personal
benefit,” he added.
Addressing critics of the police
investigation, Cohen said, “As someone who knows the details of the
affair, I advise them to watch what they say.”
Cohen offered his
full backing to the National Fraud Unit and to the Israel Police’s
Investigations Branch, which he said carried a “huge burden on its
“This is bad news for the city of Jerusalem,” Mayor
Nir Barkat said in a statement on Wednesday night. “I hope the truth
comes to light.”
“The Jerusalem Municipality will continue to assist the police in its investigation as needed,” Barkat said.
extended the custody of five of the suspects on Tuesday. During the
questioning of one of the suspects this week, detectives from the
National Fraud Unit presented documents bearing the initials “E.O.,”
and asked the suspect if he knew who bore the initials. The suspect
replied that he did not.
Former Olmert associate Uri Messer,
suspected as acting as an intermediary between bribe givers and takers
and transferring hundreds of thousands of shekels in bribes, is
scheduled to appear before court on Thursday for a third remand hearing.
do not yet know whether police will seek to keep Messer in custody or
release him,” a source associated with Messer told the Post
.Abe Selig contributed to this report.