Analysis: Lupolianski may dodge the Holyland bullet

Judge David Rozen: I don’t know why former Jerusalem mayor was even indicted.

Ehud Olmert (right) and Uri Lupolianski. 521 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ehud Olmert (right) and Uri Lupolianski. 521
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski may get off the hook in the Holyland trial.
Lupolianski was indicted in July along with 15 others for his involvement in the Holyland Affair, in which a wide array of top politicians were allegedly bribed to smooth over legal and zoning problems for the Holyland residential project in Jerusalem.
Lupolianski has denied all wrongdoing.
If not for the fact that former prime minister Ehud Olmert is also a defendant in the case, the outcome of the case against the mayor of the nation’s capital would garner greater media coverage.
But his fate is still significant and the outlook for his acquittal is getting better all the time.
Lupolianski’s specific alleged involvement in the affair was directing those paying the bribes to donate between NIS 2 million to 2.5 million to a charity he was involved in during the mid-late 1990s, when he was the head of the municipal authority that could approve, hasten or halt the Holyland project.
Most public officials allegedly received bribery payments directly to them.
Still, “S.D.” – the state’s main witness whose identity is protected by a gag order – testified that Lupolianski’s support was crucial, 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.
According to S.D., Lupolianski was as important as Olmert in ensuring the Holyland project could move forward.
When he met with Lupolianski, S.D. said that 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, S.D. testified in July. In exchange, Lupolianski would make sure the Holyland project would move forward and even be sped up, regardless of any legal obstacles, S.D. told the court.
But on Thursday, S.D. admitted that he did not know anything about Yad Sarah receiving significant direct funds, including one donation of NIS 1,250,000, from Cherny.
This adds significant weight to Lupolianski’s claim that regardless of what S.D.’s intent was in giving money to Yad Sarah, Lupolianski did not understand the funds as bribes as Cherny was clearly giving other funds to Yad Sarah without any strings attached.
So while S.D. may have thought he was bribing Lupolianski, the former Jerusalem mayor did not believe he was “on the take.”
A News1 report of an off-the-record exchange between the state prosecutor and Judge David Rozen reinforces the importance of this development.
According to the report, Rozen told the state prosecutor that he did not understand why the state had indicted Lupolianski. He said that Lupolianski was not a lawyer and could not after the fact be presumed to understand at the time the possible legal meanings of the complex interactions he had with S.D over contributing to Yad Sarah, said the report.
Rozen then pressed the sides to come to a plea bargain agreement on presumably lesser charges, the report stated.
According to the report, the state prosecutor also noted that he has always expressed a willingness to talk to Lupolianski about a deal. The state prosecutor also reportedly said that he knew Lupolianski should be treated differently than other defendants who are accused of receiving personal bribes, as opposed to for a charitable foundation.
Back in November, S.D. had already been caught in a number of contradictions during cross-examination. In one instance, he admitted that he had no documentary proof of a specific “bribe” of NIS 120,000 which he said he paid to Yad Sarah at Lupolianski’s request.
But the developments in the trial over the past week suggest that it may be wise for the state to get Lupolianski out of the case.
The state appears to have strong evidence against some of the defendants, but the case looks increasingly weaker against others, including Lupolianski. It may be in its best interest to drop the case against him and focus on the areas and defendants where evidence is stronger.