(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)
The state witness in the Holyland affair testified on Sunday that the
entrepreneurs behind the building project bribed officials to allow them to
build more apartments than originally permitted in the controversial
The prosecution contends that the Holyland developers made use
of the so-called ‘Sheves regulation,’ a decades-old planning law named after
Shimon Sheves, the director of the Prime Minister’s Office under Yitzhak
Introduced back in 1990, the purpose of the regulation was to
allow developers to increase the capacity of residential buildings constructed
for new immigrants. The Sheves regulation allows developers to change building
plans and add more units to already-approved projects.
that the original Holyland planning allowed for 290-300 housing units in one of
the buildings, whereas using the Sheves regulation, 338 apartments were
Prosecuting attorney Eti Ben-Dor argued that Holyland developers
obtained approval using the Sheves regulation after paying out bribes to former
Jerusalem city engineer Uri Sheetrit and former Jerusalem mayor Uri
In Sunday’s testimony, S.D. said that Sheetrit had
confirmed significant changes to a bridge near the Holyland project without
first obtaining the requisite approval from the regional planning
The changes included the location and width of the bridge,
S.D. told the court.
S.D. claims to have acted as a middleman,
facilitating bribes between Hillel Cherny, owner of the Holyland corporation,
and Jerusalem officials.
In previous testimony, S.D. said he
carried out that activity with Cherny’s full knowledge and consent. In a
previous hearing, S.D. said he handed over checks worth over NIS 130,000
in bribes to Sheetrit, who served as head of Jerusalem’s planning department and
city engineer between 2001-2005.
In Sunday’s hearing,
S.D. testified that Sheetrit’s moves regarding the bridge were made with
Cherny’s full knowledge.
In his testimony S.D. referenced planning
documents for the bridge, which the prosecution said had been seized from the
offices of the Holyland Tayarut [tourism] company, which is also named on the
The state witness testified that the reason for the changes
was to save a substantial amount of money by shortening building
During the hearing, several defense lawyers, including
Cherny’s counsel, attorney Giora Adereth, objected that the prosecution was
asking S.D. to confirm the content of documents rather than asking him to answer
specific questions in his own words.
Thirteen individuals – among them
former prime minister Ehud Olmert – and three companies are standing trial over
the Holyland affair, the largest real estate scandal in Israel’s history. The
indictment charges that Holyland real estate developers paid tens of millions of
shekels in bribes to public employees and elected officials to advance the
Jerusalem construction projects, including by substantially shortening planning
times, smoothing over planning objections, rezoning land and giving tax
In addition to Olmert, Sheetrit, Lupolianski and Cherny, former
Jerusalem deputy mayor and city councilman Eli Simhayof, Olmert’s former bureau
chief Shula Zaken and city councilman Avraham Finer are also standing
Also indicted are former Polar Investments CEO Avigdor Kelner,
Polar Investments manager Amnon Safran, CEO of Kardan Real Estate Shimon Galon
and Jerusalem entrepreneur Meir Rabin.The indictment also includes charges
against former chairman of Bank Hapoalim and Israel Salt Industries Dan Dankner
and former Israel Lands Authority head Yaakov Efrati, for alleged
The Tel Aviv District Court has heard testimony from state
witness S.D., whose identity is subject to a gag order, for the past two weeks.
Originally the court scheduled marathon 10-hour sessions for S.D., in order to
complete his testimony within two weeks. However, Judge David Rozen scheduled an
extra day of testimony for Sunday, before the courts’ summer recess, after
several hearings were cut short when S.D. – an elderly and ailing man – felt
unwell and had to take breaks from the witness stand.
In his two weeks on
the witness stand, S.D. has given damning testimony against the defendants, in
particular former prime minister Olmert, to whom S.D. claims he gave NIS 1.5
million from Cherny.
Olmert, who denies the charges against him, has
called S.D. a liar and said his testimony is “fairy tales,” while lawyers for
the defense have also attacked S.D.’s credibility, saying that he made a deal
with the state to safeguard his own future.
The court will convene again
to hear further testimony from S.D. on September 2, following the courts’ summer