Witness: I gave millions in bribes for Lupolianski

Holyland trial: Former Jerusalem mayor moved project forward at unprecedented pace after bribes.

July 3, 2012 18:35
4 minute read.

Holyland 390. (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

The state’s main witness in the Holyland trial on Tuesday unloaded new revelations of fraud and bribery, focusing mostly on bribes given at the behest of former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski of between NIS 2 million and NIS 2.5m. and on former Jerusalem chief engineer Uri Sheetrit for receiving over NIS 1m. in bribes directly and indirectly.

The Holyland trial, which deals with the large Jerusalem construction project of the same name, is a massive corruption case involving allegations against former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Lupolianski, Sheetrit, former Bank Hapoalim CEO Dan Dankner and 12 other defendants.

The witness, known officially only as “S.D.” due to a gag order, testified that Shula Zaken, Olmert’s former bureau chief, had initially introduced him to Lupolianski in 1994.

S.D. noted that Lupolianski was the head of the municipal authority that could approve, hasten or halt the Holyland project.

Lupolianski’s support was even more important, said S.D., since he controlled the haredi members of the Jerusalem City Council and the haredi vote in general – which had put Olmert in power as mayor. As far as S.D. was concerned, Lupolianski was as crucial as Olmert for ensuring the Holyland project could move forward.

Meeting with Lupolianski, S.D. said he represented businessman and Holyland Corporation owner Hillel Cherny, and eventually arrived at an understanding by which S.D. would make donations to Yad Sarah, a charitable medical organization that the former mayor had founded.

In exchange, Lupolianski would make sure the Holyland project would move forward and even be sped up, regardless of any legal obstacles, S.D. testified.

Lupolianski also told S.D. that Yad Sarah was the “most valuable thing to him.” Once they agreed on a sum that S.D.

would “donate” to Yad Sarah, generally on behalf of Cherny, Lupolianski would have an associate, Shoshana Sharabi, contact S.D. to arrange the specific transfer details, said S.D.

The witness estimated that between NIS 2m. and NIS 2.5m. in total was transferred to Yad Sarah to obtain Lupolianski’s cooperation. S.D. said he was not familiar with any project of similar size that moved forward as fast as this one, once the bribes were being paid. S.D. added that he attended the weddings of all of Lupolianski’s children, giving each of them an NIS 5,000 present.

Moving on to the post-1999 period of promoting the project, S.D. delved into his relations with Sheetrit, who was appointed by Olmert while Olmert was still mayor of Jerusalem – and according to S.D., when Olmert was still himself accepting bribes to advance the Holyland project.

S.D. said Sheetrit initially told him he might not have approved earlier stages of the project had he been chief engineer then, due to violations of city rules and standards. S.D.

said he turned to Jerusalem entrepreneur Meir Rabin, who had close connections with Sheetrit, to help convince Sheetrit to take a more positive view of the project.

In April 2003, Sheetrit received direct bribes in the amount of NIS 130,000, and a company of his received an additional NIS 883,500, said S.D., for agreeing to promote the project among the relevant Jerusalem authorities.

Later, Sheetrit was assisted by S.D., according to his testimony, in reducing a Bank Hapoalim debt of approximately NIS 3m. to about NIS 1.1m. In order to do so, S.D. said he sent Rabin to speak with Dankner.

Asked by the court “with all due respect to Meir Rabin, why would Dankner do what Rabin wanted” and reduce Sheetrit’s debt, S.D. responded that Dankner wanted to stay in good stead with Rabin because he needed his assistance on business issues with the Israel Lands Authority.

The judge asked S.D. why they didn’t simply try to persuade Lupolianski to fire Sheetrit and replace him with a more pliable chief engineer.

The witness answered they did not know who his replacement would be and they already believed, correctly, that Sheetrit could be bought off.

S.D. said Cherny, Polar Investments CEO Avigdor Kellner, Polar Investments manager Amnon Safran and Kardan Real Estate CEO Shimon Galon all knew and approved of the bribes being given to Sheetrit.

He added that both Sheetrit and Cherny were careful to instruct him that the bribes be spread out in a number of checks in small sums to better avoid detection.

At this point the judge interjected, “All of them knew [about the bribes]?” S.D.
affirmed they did and said if they had not, “they would not be sitting here now along with me.”

The third day of testimony also more deeply explored what went wrong in S.D.’s relationship with the other defendants, which led him to turn to the authorities and eventually blow open the entire Holyland scandal.

In 2008, when S.D. was sick and had financial problems, he said he asked Sheetrit for help paying an NIS 50,000 debt. To his dismay, Sheetrit at first acted unsure and eventually said he could only give him NIS 35,000, said S.D.

This left S.D. feeling betrayed.

He said he had given Sheetrit and other officials much larger funds to help them in their time of need, and they later would not assist him properly with a much smaller debt. S.D.

became animated on the stand and said he could withstand many things, but would not be treated “like an idiot” when he knew that they could assist him if they chose.

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