Messer 'mysteriously' remanded

Olmert former confidant held in Holyland scandal investigation.

April 12, 2010 05:08
2 minute read.
The Holyland real estate project (Ariel Jerozolims

HOLYLAND 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Uri Messer, a former confidant of Ehud Olmert, was remanded in custody for another five days on Sunday by Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court Judge Avraham Haiman, who thereby complied with a request by the Israel Police’s National Fraud Squad.

At the end of a stormy and prolonged remand hearing, Haiman ruled that Messer’s conduct during a police interrogation a few hours before the court hearing “spoke for itself,” and formed a “concrete” basis for police suspicions that Messer would pervert the course of justice if he were released to house arrest.

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The National Fraud Squad said “new evidence” gathered on Sunday proved that Messer could not be released to house arrest, and presented the case material in a secret dossier to Haiman. Fraud investigators had offered to release Messer to house arrest for 10 days, but retracted the offer in light of the mysterious incident in the interrogation room.

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Messer’s attorney, Shimon Dolan, said the incident was little more than a misunderstanding by police of a joke made by his client. Messer apparently had jotted down a note during his interrogation, which may have contributed to the police’s decision to retract its offer of house arrest.

Messer is suspected of transferring hundreds of thousands of shekels in bribes to senior public officials on behalf of businessmen seeking favors related to real estate projects, including the Holyland residential development in Jerusalem, the Tzuk Menara land development plan in the Galilee and projects by the Zera company.

During the remand hearing Dolan asked the police representative in court whether its custody request was linked to a desire to “keep Messer behind bars while you wait for someone to return from abroad to question him,” referring to ex-prime minister Olmert. The police representative replied by referring to the secret dossier.

Dolan also asked whether the police’s investigation strategy was linked to the ongoing trial against Olmert. In his decision, Haiman ruled that there was no connection.

Dolan argued that Messer’s role in the Holyland investigation was marginal, and not central as police had attempted to portray.

Following the hearing, Dolan told reporters that the police conduct was “very strange,” adding that an offer to release his client to house arrest was retracted “just two to three hours after it was made.”

Earlier, Time magazine cited unnamed officials as saying that police would arrest Olmert as soon as he landed at Ben-Gurion Airport from his trip abroad. Police refused to confirm or deny the reports.

A partial gag order is in effect, prohibiting publication of many details of the investigation.

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