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HOLYLAND 311.(Photo by: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Uri Messer's remand extended
Olmert confidant accused of involvement in real estate bribery scam.
The Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on Sunday extended the remand of attorney Uri Messer, a close friend of former prime minister Ehud Olmert who is accused of involvement in a large-scale bribery case that enabled the construction of the Holyland buildings in Jerusalem.

It was announced last week that new evidence was discovered to connect Messer to the case.

Messer and four others were arrested several days ago in connection with what law enforcement sources describe as an unprecedented real estate bribery scam.

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According to investigators, land developers allegedly paid large bribes to public officials to gain approval for projects built by the Holyland real estate company in Jerusalem and associated development projects in the North.

A comprehensive media ban on the investigation was partially lifted by the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday, allowing for some details of the affair to be publicized, though others remain under wraps.

According to police suspicions, between 1999 and 2008, the Holyland company and other land development companies, then owned by businessman Hillel Charni, paid tens of millions of shekels in bribes to senior decision-makers.

In one major alleged scam, key members of the Jerusalem Municipality, including members of its planning and construction committee, received large sums in exchange for their approval for the Holyland housing project, which towers above the city’s Malha neighborhood.

Bribes allegedly bought approval for additional units to be built at the site, with the enlarged Holyland development receiving final approval in 1999.

During a lengthy remand hearing for the suspects on Tuesday evening, Rishon Lezion Magistrate Judge Avraham Haiman described the affair as “one of the most severe instances of public corruption in Israel’s history, which will send shock waves throughout the country and which has caused irreversible damage to the public interest.”

Haiman described the Holyland towers as a “monstrosity,” a sentiment with which many Jerusalemites would agree.
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