(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.
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.Related: Uri Messer is the link
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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
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arrest was retracted “just two to three hours after it was made.”
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.