Hundreds yet to be grilled over Holyland

Supreme Court upholds remand extension of key suspects Charni, Kelner.

By DAN IZENBERG
April 19, 2010 01:52
3 minute read.

The police have yet to question hundreds of witnesses in connection with the Holyland affair, a state prosecutor told the Supreme Court on Sunday.

Justice Uzi Fogelman heard appeals from the lawyers of suspects Hillel Charni and Avigdor Kelner against the extension of their remands. The two are the key figures suspected of bribing politicians, including former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski, and municipal employees, including former city engineer Uri Sheetrit.

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“This is not just another case of a transgression of one sort or another [for] which, as my colleagues claim, the investigative measures could have been carried out during their first remand in custody,” said prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari Schwiki. “We are talking about an affair regarding which I believe I will not be exaggerating when I say that hundreds of witnesses [still] have to be investigated. Each day we see a long line of witnesses arriving at the National Fraud Unit to be questioned.”

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On April 13, Judge Avraham Heiman ordered Charni and Kelner, together with three other suspects, to be remanded in custody until April 21.

Police said Charni was a “central suspect” in the case.

“He gave the bribes and reaped the benefits,” police prosecutor Lior Rice told Heiman.

Kelner, the police charged, “was an office- and shareholder in the senior company of Holyland Park, which purchased the land in 2000, as well as in the Zera Company and others. He is suspected of paying bribes amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars to advance these projects.”

The lower court accepted the state’s argument that Charni, Kelner and the three other suspects – who have since been released to house arrest – would try to obstruct justice if allowed to go home.

Four of the suspects appealed the lower court decision to the Central District Court. However, Judge Avraham Tal rejected the appeals. In the meantime, one of the suspects was released from jail. The three others appealed Tal’s ruling to the Supreme Court. During Sunday’s hearing, one of the suspects, Eliyahu Sasson, an accountant for Holyland Park, dropped out of the appeal after reaching an agreement that he would be released from custody later in the day.

That left Charni and Kelner. Charni’s lawyers, Oren and Gideon Aderet, denied that their client might try to obstruct the investigation if released to house arrest. They told the court that Charni had known a long time ago that he would eventually be investigated and was aware of at least some of the allegations currently aimed at him. Nevertheless, he had not tried to cover his tracks. They also stressed that Charni had already been in jail for eight days before his remand was extended.

Attorney Eitan Maoz, pleading on behalf of Kelner, said it was unusual to hold a suspect in custody on suspicion of an economic crime for more than three or four days. Kelner, who had already been held for six days, was now going to be held in jail for nine more days, according to the police request.

“How can it be,” asked Maoz, “that during the six days the suspect was in detention, concern that he might obstruct the investigation has only increased? If keeping him in jail does not help allay fears that he will disrupt the proceedings, what is the point detaining him?”

Ben-Ari Schwiki argued that the fact that five of the suspects had been released to house arrest was proof that the police had examined the case of each one individually and had come to the conclusion that Charni and Kelner must remain in custody “for at least a few more days.”

Fogelman rejected both appeals and upheld the decision to remand them in custody until April 21.


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