Holyland case 'just the start'

After ex-mayor's arrest, top J'lem councilman urges more probes.

Holyland project311 (photo credit: AP)
Holyland project311
(photo credit: AP)
A senior Jerusalem councilman on Thursday morning said he suspected the Holyland real estate affair was “just the start” and called on authorities to investigate a number of other massive building projects he believes may be tainted with corruption.
Councilman Meir Turgeman, the head of the opposition faction in the Jerusalem municipal council, told Israel Radio he fears plans to build at the YMCA compound, the Gilo Uptown project and Mamilla neighborhood might have been approved in return for kickbacks.
For news analysis on the Holyland corruption case click here.
On Wednesday, the police investigation into suspected massive briberyin the Holyland real estate affair took a dramatic turn when detectivesfrom the National Fraud Unit arrested former Jerusalem mayor UriLupolianski on suspicion of accepting more than NIS 3 million in bribesto ensure that the housing plan was approved, and of money laundering.
Accordingto police suspicions, between 1999 and 2008, the Holyland developmentcompany and associated land development projects, then owned bybusinessman Hillel Charni, paid tens of millions of shekels in bribesthrough intermediaries to senior public decision makers in theJerusalem Municipality, members of its planning and constructioncommittee, the Israel Lands Administration and others, in exchange fortheir approval for the Holyland housing project in the Malhaneighborhood and additional developments in the North.
Lupolianskiwas deputy mayor and chairman of the municipality’s planning andconstruction committee between 1993 and 2003, when the Holyland planwas approved. He went on to become a member of the National Buildingand Planning Committee when he was mayor from 2003 to 2008.
According to police suspicions, by 1999, Lupolianski had accepted NIS 1.5m. in bribes that he received “though another suspect.”
Theillicit money was allegedly transferred to Lupolianski in the form of adonation to the Yad Sarah charity for disabled and elderly people,which he founded in 1976.
A Yad Sarah representative released astatement on Wednesday saying that the organization had “nothing to dowith the Holyland affair and has never taken a bribe.”
A second alleged transfer of bribes took place between 2006 and 2008, when the Lupolianski allegedly received NIS 1.4m.
Duringa remand hearing held for Lupolianski at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’sCourt on Wednesday evening, the police representative, Ch.-Supt. LiorRice, said additional instances of bribery were being investigated,including the transfer of $30,000 to Lupolianski, which he allegedlypaid to political field activists to help secure his 2003 mayoralelection win. Police also suspect Lupolianski accepted NIS 100,000 inbribes in 2005, as a “donation” to a religious educational centermanaged by his son.
In return for the cash, police suspect,Lupolianski exploited his positions to promote an enlarged version ofthe Holyland project within the municipal Construction and PlanningCommittee, and resisted calls to lower the height of the Holylandresidential towers by two stories. He also allegedly helped ensure thatalmost 1,000 objections to the plan were overruled.
“The suspectwas supposed to safeguard the public interest, but in reality hestrayed from it,” Rice said. “He saved the project’s backers millionsof shekels in expenses and led to the expansion of the project and asignificant increase in profit for its backers.”
Judge Avraham Haiman of the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extended Lupolianski’s custody by five days.
Speakingto Channel 10 News on Tuesday, Lupolianski appeared to attempt to shiftresponsibility to former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was mayor ofJerusalem between 1993 and 2003 – when Holyland was approved.
“The mayor is the one who decides, that is the truth,” Lupolianski said. “The deputy mayor has no responsibility.”
Lupolianski’sattorney, Yair Golan, said his client had denied all suspicions againsthim, had consistently presented receipts for donations received to YadSarah and did not attempt to hide the identity of donors.
Meanwhile,anticipating an invitation to the police interrogation room, Olmert cutshort a trip abroad and arrived in Israel on Wednesday night, where heis reportedly set to be questioned over the Holyland briberyinvestigation.
“In light of the growing number of reports,according to which police are seeking to question Olmert on his allegedinvolvement in the Holyland affair, Olmert decided to return to Israeltonight,” a statement released by Olmert’s spokesman, Amir Dan, said onWednesday.
“Olmert denies any link to the affair, but haspublicly stated last week that he is available for any questioning,”the statement said. “We’ve already seen how large headlines at thestart of an investigation change radically with time, when the realfacts begin to come to light,” it continued.
A source associated with Olmert told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the ex-premier was keen to avoid giving the impression that he was “evading questioning.”
OnWednesday night, Israel Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen spoke at an awardceremony for police excellence held at Tel Aviv University, anddescribed the alleged corruption affair as “widespread and veryworrying.”
“Corruption within the authorities undermines thefoundations of a state built on the rule of law,” he said. Publicofficials suspected of corruption in the investigation abused theirpower and exploited their public office “for their own personalbenefit,” he added.
Addressing critics of the policeinvestigation, Cohen said, “As someone who knows the details of theaffair, I advise them to watch what they say.”
Cohen offered hisfull backing to the National Fraud Unit and to the Israel Police’sInvestigations Branch, which he said carried a “huge burden on itsshoulders.”
“This is bad news for the city of Jerusalem,” MayorNir Barkat said in a statement on Wednesday night. “I hope the truthcomes to light.”
“The Jerusalem Municipality will continue to assist the police in its investigation as needed,” Barkat said.
Haimanextended the custody of five of the suspects on Tuesday. During thequestioning of one of the suspects this week, detectives from theNational Fraud Unit presented documents bearing the initials “E.O.,”and asked the suspect if he knew who bore the initials. The suspectreplied that he did not.
Former Olmert associate Uri Messer,suspected as acting as an intermediary between bribe givers and takersand transferring hundreds of thousands of shekels in bribes, isscheduled to appear before court on Thursday for a third remand hearing.
“Wedo not yet know whether police will seek to keep Messer in custody orrelease him,” a source associated with Messer told the Post.
Abe Selig contributed to this report.