Journalist: Olmert received bribes

Akirov purchased former PM's wife's paintings at exaggerated prices.

By
April 12, 2010 06:51
2 minute read.
Olmert at court

Olmert at court. (photo credit: Associated Press)

 
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Investigative journalist Yoav Yitzhak, who was the first to report on the Holyland corruption allegations, on Sunday levelled allegations of bribery against former prime minister Ehud Olmert, accusing him of providing a series of benefits to developer Alfred Akirov while Jerusalem mayor in exchange for Akirov’s purchases of paintings by Olmert’s wife, Aliza, at “significantly” high prices.

According to Yitzhak, Akirov purchased the paintings during the period when Olmert served as Jerusalem mayor, between 1993 and 2003, when construction for the Mamilla shopping center, situated across from the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, was approved.

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The mall was built by the Al-Rov group, which was owned by Akirov at the time. It opened in 2007.

Speaking to *The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, Yitzhak said benefits bestowed by the Jerusalem Municipality to Akirov included expedited construction permits, increasing the building rights, and possible tax benefits.

“The most critical benefits,” he added, “involved the height of the structure and the construction percentages [on the lot] that were permitted.”

Yitzhak said that although the alleged affair is reminiscent of the Holyland investigation in many ways, it also differs from the Holyland project since the Mamilla Mall is not a blight on Jerusalem’s landscape, adding that Akirov “built something nice in Jerusalem.”

The Holyland residential towers were described as “a monstrosity” by Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court Judge Avraham Haiman during a remand hearing for some of the bribery suspects.

Yitzhak added that it was too soon to talk about the extent of the alleged evidence that might be available to support his claims.



Amir Dan, a spokesman for Olmert, said in response, “It would be inappropriate to respond to these allegations.”

In July 2008, Yitzhak broke a story on his News First Class Web site alleging widespread bribery in the construction of the Holyland residential towers in Jerusalem’s Malha neighborhood.

He sent information he gathered on alleged corruption to police investigators, as well as a list of witnesses and a list of the central suspects in the affair.

Last week, police arrested five people in connection with the investigation, including former Olmert confidant Uri Messer, suspected of acting as an intermediary between bribe givers and receivers, and Uri Sheetrit, the former Jerusalem municipal engineer, accused of accepting bribes in exchange for his support of the Holyland project.

Yitzhak described Akirov and Olmert as “very close friends,” adding that Akirov made a point of publicly defending the ex-premier within business circles in response to the plethora of allegations of wrongdoing against Olmert.

Yitzhak urged police to launch a fresh investigation into his latest claims.

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