High court hears Holyland appeals

High Court hears Lupolianski, Holyland defendants appeal their bribery convictions; Olmert's appeal set for Wednesday.

Olmert corruption trial (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Olmert corruption trial
An expanded five justice panel of the Supreme Court started to hear the appeals of the Holyland defendants to overturn their bribery convictions on Monday, a group which includes former prime minister Ehud Olmert, former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski and a range of other top politicians and business leaders.
Olmert was convicted on two counts of bribery by Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen in March and sentenced to six years in prison in May.
Lupolianski was convicted of channeling some NIS 2 million in bribes and also sentenced to six years in prison.
Of the defendants, Lupolianski is considered to have one of the best chances of at least reducing his sentence, since he did not receive any money directly, but channeled the funds to the respected medical charity he founded, Yad Sarah.
Lupolianski has serious health issues having suffered from cancer and being recently hospitalized for pneumonia.
If the convictions and sentence stand, Olmert’s political career is at an end, with the earliest he could return to politics being in around 13 years’ time, when he will be 82, with a Knesset bill being considered that could push any return off to 20 years.
There has been little talk of a political comeback for Lupolianski since his sentence.
Though it was expected that Olmert’s defense team’s oral argument would begin Monday, it was delayed until Wednesday with Lupolianski taking center stage Monday.
Justices Salim Jabraun, Neal Hendel, Uzi Vogelman, Yitzhak Amit and Zvi Zilberthal are hearing the case.
Supreme Court President Asher Grunis is not on the panel since he is retiring at the end of the year and might not be able to finish the case.
The Holyland trial involved 16 defendants, 13 of whom were convicted of participating in the biggest bribery scheme in the state’s history.
Most of the defendants were powerful Jerusalem public servants who took bribes to smooth over legal and zoning obstacles for the Holyland real estate project in south Jerusalem.
Lupolianski’s lawyer Yair Golan emphasized that the former mayor had not taken a shekel for himself and that Yad Sarah is a charity worthy of support.
He said that Lupolianski at worst had violated conflict of interest principles and possibly breached public trust, but that due to his philanthropic intent of supporting Yad Sarah, his actions could not be defined as accepting bribes.
The High Court justices said that this would be a difficult argument for Lupolianski to win since the whole reason the funds were given to Yad Sarah was because of his position as mayor and his power to move the Holyland project forward in exchange for the political capital he reaped from brokering the donations to Yad Sarah.
While the justices implied overturning the bribery conviction was unlikely, they said they were definitely ready to be “attentive” regarding reducing Lupolianski’s sentence, and implied sympathy with the idea.
Golan seized the opening, noting that Rozen himself had implied only weeks before sentencing that the state should cut a deal with Lupolianski as he might decide not to send him to jail because he received no funds personally and was sick.
He added that Rozen had performed an unexplained “180 degree turn” after those statements in giving Lupolianski as heavy a sentence as other defendants who had directly received bribes.
Other defendants who made their oral appeals Monday included Holyland “mastermind” Hillel Cherny, who provided the funds for most of the bribes to the public officials, and Avigdor Kellner who was involved in the real estate project as an investor and owner of Holyland Park Company.
The justices did not appear receptive to many of their arguments, pounding them with questions, which does not bode well for Olmert on Wednesday.