Police investigating the Holyland bribery affair have stumbled onto a second alleged major real estate corruption episode, involving prominent businessman Dan Danker and the former head of the Israel Lands Administration, Yaakov Efrati.
According to suspicions, between 2001 and 2008, Dankner, then owner of Israel Salt Industries and chairman of Bank Hapoalim, paid approximately a million shekels in bribes to Efrati to ensure that properties he owned in Atlit and Eilat could be rezoned from salt production areas to zones that could be developed, thereby securing very large profits for himself.
The Jerusalem Post has learned that the state’s witness in the Holyland affair directed National Fraud Unit detectives to allegedly incriminating documents that were stored in the home of property developer Meir Rabin – a key suspect in the Holyland affair.
The documents allegedly show that Rabin and the state’s witness allegedly passed bribe money from Dankner to Efrati.
Dankner and Efrati were both arrested on Wednesday and brought before the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, which extended their custody by five days.
Rabin was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of passing on tens of millions in bribes to decision-makers in the Jerusalem Municipality in exchange for expediting and expanding the controversial residential development southwestern Jerusalem.
The documents seized by police from Rabin’s home are believed to include receipts sent by Rabin to Israel Salt Industries for “advisory services.” Police suspect the receipts served as a cover for Rabin’s transfer of bribes from Dankner to Efrati.
The Post has also learned that police suspect Efrati of being linked to the Holyland case, and additional alleged instances of bribery involving the Zera property development company.
Last month, Dankner, now CEO of Arison Investments, the investment arm of Bank Hapoalim’s controlling shareholder, Shari Arison, was interrogated by the National Fraud Squad on suspicion of misconduct and breach of trust during his tenure at the bank from 2005 to 2009.
Dankner resigned as executive chairman of Hapoalim’s board last June over differences of opinion with the Bank of Israel, following a two-month power battle between Arison and Supervisor of Banks Rony Hizkiyahu.
Earlier on Wednesday, Micha Fetman, the lawyer representing Shula Zaken, a longtime aide to former prime minister Ehud Olmert, denied recent media reports that negotiations were under way between Zaken and police over the possibility that Zaken would turn state’s witness in the Holyland affair.
Zaken is suspected of passing on bribes from businessman Hillel Charni to senior Jerusalem municipal officials, including Olmert, who was then mayor of Jerusalem, in exchange for receiving approvals for the Holyland development.
Police and the Justice Ministry also denied the reports, which appeared on the front pages of Yediot Aharonot and Ma’ariv, saying the claims had “no basis in reality.”
The brief Justice Ministry statement read, “We wish to make it clear that there is no truth to the reports that the police or the state prosecution is or has had contacts with Ms. Shula Zaken and furthermore, police and the prosecution are not behind these reports.”
Fetman’s denial was much sharper.
“These reports [about turning state’s witness] have saddened Ms. Zaken, they hurt her, her children, her husband, her family and those who love and esteem her.”
“Nothing of what has been reported actually happened in reality,” he added.
“The media that reported these facts, which are completely detached from reality, ought to examine themselves to see on what basis they published information that misleads the public and what hostile interests were served by such a misleading report,” Fetman said.
While both sides agree that they had not discussed any offer to Zaken to become a witness for the state, they gave different versions of another aspect of the procedures.
Police are likely to arrest Zaken upon her return to Israel from the US, where she has been for several weeks, and view her continued stay abroad as an attempt to evade police questioning.
Fetman, however, said Zaken had decided to advance the date of her return home, but would not disclose when that would be, adding only that the authorities had been informed. Zaken is expected to return to Israel next week.
Zaken is currently standing trial for her alleged actions in two separate affairs, one involving the Income Tax Authority, in Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, and the other, in Jerusalem District Court, involving the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs as well as charges that she eavesdropped on Olmert’s phone calls.
Fetman said Zaken had delayed her return to Israel after learning that the Olmert hearing had been suspended for a month because of the Holyland affair.
According to the state, Zaken was summoned for questioning by police “more than a week ago.”
But Fetman said that police searched her home on April 13. Although they knew she was abroad, they allegedly left a summons, informing her that they wanted to question her, but did not specify a date for the interrogation.
Meanwhile, the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court released three key
suspects in the Holyland investigation to house arrest; Charni, owner
of lands on which the Holyland towers were constructed, who is
suspected of paying tens of millions in shekels in bribes; businessman
Avigdor Kelner, who had majority stock ownership in the the Holyland
Park and Zera companies, and who is suspected of paying hundreds of
thousands of shekels in bribes to advance the project, and Uri
Sheetrit, former chief Jerusalem Municipality engineer, who is
suspected of dropping his initial opposition to the project and
becoming a supporter of the plan after receiving very large bribes.
It remains unclear whether the release followed cooperation by any of the three suspects with the police.
During the remand hearing, Charni compared his custody to the ordeal of
kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, held hostage by Hamas since being
abducted in 2006. He later apologized for the remarks.Sharon Wrobel contributed to this report.