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(photo credit: Channel 10 )
A Petah Tikva District Court rejected on Monday an appeal launched by Uri Messer against a decision by a Rishon Lezion magistrate to extend his custody by five days.
Messer, a former close associate of ex-premier Ehud Olmert, is suspected of acting as an intermediary on behalf of businessmen seeking to bribe public officials. He allegedly transferred hundreds of thousands of shekels in cash to key decision-makers to obtain approval for real estate projects ranging from the Tzuk Menara land development plan in the Galilee, projects by the Zera company and the Holyland residential development in Jerusalem.
On Sunday, Rishon Lezion Magistrate Judge Avraham Haiman extended Messer’s custody by five days, thereby taking the unusual step of complying in full with a custody request by the Israel Police’s National Fraud Unit for a second time within two weeks.
On Monday, Judge Avraham Tal of the Petah Tikva District Court rejected claims by Messer’s attorney, Shimon Dolan, that the police had no legal basis to keep his client in custody. Dolan argued that police were seeking to retain Messer in custody only because law enforcement officials were “waiting [to question] people who are currently abroad,” referring to Olmert, who is scheduled to return to Israel this weekend.
Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem during the time of the alleged bribery offenses, and several media reports have suggested that police will question the former prime minister when he returns to Israel. Police have refused to confirm or deny such reports.
During the court hearing in Petah Tikva on Monday, the police representative to court, Ch.-Supt. Tzahi Havkin, said “new developments” led police to fear that Messer’s release would disrupt the investigation.
Referring to classified case material made available to him by police, Judge Tal backed the police’s position, adding that its concerns were well founded.
“After studying the documents presented to court, I have concluded that
there is no alternative but to extend his custody,” Tal said.
Sunday, the National Fraud Unit had offered to release Messer to house
arrest for 10 days, but retracted the offer in light of a mysterious
incident that occurred in the interrogation room.
attorney, Shimon Dolan, said police had misinterpreted a joke made by
his client during an interrogation on Sunday, when Messer apparently
jotted down a note in jest.
But police are adamant that the undisclosed development ruled out the idea of releasing Messer to house arrest.