State seeks to extend Holyland witness gag order

Proposed gag order sought by the state would prohibit discussing almost any details about S.D., including from his past.

Holyland 390 (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)
Holyland 390
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)
The state submitted on Sunday a request to the Tel Aviv District Court to extend and broaden the gag order against reporting details regarding the main state witness in the Holyland case against former prime minister Ehud Olmert, former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski and 14 other defendants, until the end of the case.
The state witness is referred to publicly only as “S.D.”
The request was submitted against the backdrop of reports that Channel 2 news is planning on airing on Thursday an expose that will reflect negatively on S.D.’s character.
Until now the gag order on S.D.’s identity has been for a temporary period and related only to divulging his identity.
The proposed gag order sought by the state would prohibit discussing almost any details about S.D., including from his past, other than his testimony in court.
Sunday saw the resumption of the Holyland trial that had been on hiatus for over a month during the courts’ summer recess.
The Holyland trial is a complex trial alleging fraud and bribery against 16 defendants, including Olmert, Lupolianski and a number of other prominent politicians and businessmen.
The alleged fraud and bribery was all connected with the building of a large number of residential units, allegedly approved in violation of building and zoning rules in return for bribes, in southern Jerusalem where the Holyland Hotel once stood.
Until now and for the foreseeable future, all of the testimony in the trial, which started in July, has been given by S.D., who having admitted a central role in the fraud and bribery scheme, turned state’s witness and became one of the keys to the state’s case against the other defendants, along with a wealth of documents that he provided the state.
In the state’s request on Sunday, attorney Liat Ben-Ari went so far as to imply that S.D.
might stop testifying without an additional protective order.
Ben-Ari said that S.D. had recently come to a meeting with the state’s legal team appearing extremely stressed and disoriented by negative news coverage that has come out and that would be aired on Channel 2 news’s Thursday program.
There was other potential bad news for the state regarding S.D. in Sunday’s hearing.
S.D. was testifying about a letter that he sent to Uri Messer, one of Olmert’s longtime close associates, including when he was a cabinet minister in November 2003.
According to S.D., the background to the letter was that he was having difficulties with Jerusalem chief architect Uri Sheetit with moving the Holyland project forward in the manner that had been envisioned.
S.D. had recently received a surprise letter from Sheetrit requiring the Holyland investors to invest significantly more funds and portions of the land that they had purchased in public endeavors, such as parks and sports facilities, than had been expected.
Parks and sports facilities would be significantly less profitable than high-end residential units, and the gulf was very large between how much land S.D. and the Holyland investors expected to be dedicated to the less profitable functions and what Sheetrit demanded in his letter.
S.D. said he was taken aback by Sheerit’s demands and so he turned to Messer to convince Sheetrit to back down and accept the Holyland investor’s plan, even if the plan violated zoning and building rules and policies.
This is where S.D.’s testimony ran into trouble.
Olmert had told S.D. in general that he could turn to Messer to help resolve problems regarding moving the Holyland project forward, and S.D. wanted to assign Olmert blame for his turning to Messer in this case.
But under questioning from the judge, S.D. admitted that he had already paid bribes to Sheetrit and that ultimately he turned to Messer to resolve the issue with Sheetrit because he (S.D.) has a hot temper and was afraid he would start a fight with Sheetrit, which he wanted to avoid.
This is just one example where S.D. in a general sense may have seen himself as acting on behalf of Olmert or another defendant, when in fact some of his actions were at his own independent discretion.
In other words, he turned to Messer for help because of his own character issues, not because he was specifically told in this case to do so by Olmert.
The more examples like these the defense can find, the more S.D.’s testimony could lose credibility over time.