Court to hold Salt Industries hearing

Salt Industries faces police investigation of corruption allegations.

high court panel citizenship law 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
high court panel citizenship law 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
For the first time in more than five years, the High Court of Justice will hold a hearing on a petition filed in 2003 by the Movement for Quality Government against a controversial business deal between the Israel Lands Administration and Israel Salt Industries Ltd.
The deal, which was signed in October 2003 but has not been finalized, is now the subject of a high profile police investigation of corruption allegations.
The police have been questioning Dan Dankner, one of the owners of Salt Industries, and Ya’acov Efrati, head of the ILA when the deal was signed. Dankner is suspected of bribing Efrati to approve the transaction.
According to the deal, the Dankner family agreed to return 2,225 dunams (222.5 hectares) of land it had leased from the ILA in Eilat and Atlit for the production of salt. The ILA wanted to use the land for housing and recreational development. It promised the Dankners other land for their salt production and granted them 40 percent of the building rights on the land they were giving back. According to the new status of the land as “urban” land, its value to the Dankners increased from $23 million to $90m.
A few days after the ILA and the Dankners signed the agreement, the Movement for Quality Government petitioned the High Court, saying that the deal was unreasonable and demanding that it be canceled.
But the agreement had not yet gone into effect. It still required the approval of the minister of finance. By that time, Ehud Olmert, who was head of the Israel Lands Council when the agreement was signed, and who pushed strongly for its approval, had become minister of finance. Olmert signed the agreement, but promptly backed down under heavy pressure.
On the day the Movement for Quality Government petition was filed, theHigh Court issued an interim injunction to suspend the deal. However,when it learned that the agreement had not been finalized, it refusedto hear the petition. Instead, it gave the state five months to informit of the finance minister’s decision. That court ruling was handeddown on September 22, 2005.
Since then, the state has sent an update to the court every six months,informing it that the finance minister has not yet made up his mind.
On January 25, after receiving the state’s routine update, the court ordered the state to report again by June 1.
However, in April, after the news of the police investigation ofDankner and Efrati broke, the Movement for Quality Government asked theHigh Court to schedule a new hearing.
In her response, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch said that shewould wait for the state’s update on June 1, but added that she wouldset a date for a hearing as soon as she received it.