State witness kept in safe house, with media ban on his identity.
By YAAKOV LAPPIN
Detectives from the National Fraud Unit are focusing significant efforts on getting suspects in the Holyland affair to incriminate former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is suspected of accepting large bribes when he was mayor of Jerusalem, in return for his support for the Holyland project.On Thursday, Olmert’s former law partner, attorney Uri Messer, suspected of acting as an intermediary between bribe givers and takers and transferring hundreds of thousands of shekels in bribes to senior officials, was released to 10 days house arrest in his home in Caesarea.Related: The full text of Olmert's denialAt Yad Sarah, shock, disbelief and a statement of supportPolice bid to get other suspects to incriminate OlmertAnalysis: Bribery is the hardest offense to proveAdvertisementInside City Hall, a dire ‘culture of cronyism’Messer is banned from leaving the country for 180 days, and was ordered to hand over his passport to the National Fraud Unit, as well as deposit a bail of NIS 100,000, as part of the terms of his release.Judge Haiman of the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court said there was an “inherent possibility” that Messer would try to flee the country unless the exit ban was imposed.Messer did not cooperate with detectives during his police interrogations, an associate close to him told The Jerusalem Post.“The police held him until Olmert came back [from overseas],” the source added. “Now that Olmert is here, they’re letting him go. He didn’t say a word during questioning.”Detectives are believed to have asked Messer to tell them who received the hundreds of thousands of shekels he allegedly passed on. In recent days and weeks, detectives from the National Fraud Unit have tried to get at least two people believed to have transferred illicit money from bribe givers to receivers to incriminate Olmert.Eilyahu Hasson, an accountant who worked under then-Holyland development company boss Hillel Charni, and who is suspected of transferring bribery funds to public officials, has been placed under intense pressure in recent days in the police interrogation room to name Olmert as the chief bribe receiver. Hasson has been shown allegedly incriminating documents bearing Olmert’s initials, and been asked to identify the former prime minister as the person involved.Similarly, real estate developer Meir Rabin, who is suspected of passing on tens of millions in bribery money to decision makers in the Jerusalem Municipality, is facing heavy pressure to name those who received the alleged bribe money.A new media ban ordered by a court on Thursday has forbidden media from naming the state witness in the investigation, who has provided police with names of alleged bribe givers and takers.The state witness is being kept in a safe house, and its location is being kept a secret. In recent weeks, police have focused their efforts on accumulating evidence that can back up the testimony of the witness, who has been accused by suspects in the investigation of attempting to extort them to cover heavy debts.In a mock indictment sheet drawn up by the state witness, he said he had bribed a senior National Fraud Unit police officer, in addition to bribing Olmert and several high-ranking Jerusalem Municipality officials.While police are taking the latter claims seriously, associates of the suspects in the investigation are using some of the witnesses’ more outlandish claims to try to discredit him.A number of further details concerning the alleged bribery affair can be revealed following the lifting of a media ban on Thursday. Police believe that the authorized building area for the Holyland project grew by 1,200 percent – 12 times larger than in the original plan that was approved before the bribes were paid.In addition, the property’s original purpose, as a site for hotels, was altered to become a residential housing development, and significant benefits were given saving the project’s backers millions of shekels.Police say several public officials who resisted the project changed their stance after being bribed, and then “promoted the project, allowing it to be increased in size significantly, and approving a change in the project’s original purpose.”In recent weeks, police have raided the offices of the Jerusalem Municipality, its Planning and Construction Committee, as well as the offices of the Ministry of Interior’s District Planning and Construction Committee and those of the Holyland Tourism Company and the Holyland Park Company.Similarly, detectives seized documents in raids on the offices ofthe Zera real estate development firm, and of the Tzuk Menara projectnear Kiryat Shmona.The investigation is being overseen by National Fraud Unit headAsst.-Cmdr. Shlomi Ayalon, Israel Police Investigations Branch chiefCmdr. Yoav Seglovitch and State Attorney Moshe Lador.It is being accompanied by prosecutor Ela Rubinik, who heads the Taxand Finance Department in the Tel Aviv District Attorney’s Office, anda Tax Authority investigations team lead by Avi Erditi, deputydirector-general for investigations and intelligence.
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