Thursday, April 15, 2010

Israel: Political leaders taking bribes

Can't say this is a surprise. 

Nothing like getting caught with you hand in the cookie jar.  Well I suppose it's about time a few of them were caught. Took long enough however. This type of activity is rather common I bet.

One also has to wonder who owns what stocks as well, that make profits from their political decisions.
In the US politicians in power make a fortune off Weapons producers, Oil companies and Pharmaceutical companies etc etc.They also get tons of donations at election time from such companies. This happens in many countries.

I bet it happens in Israel too. The problem is no one ever investigates such things.

Bribery case ‘penetrated authorities’
13/04/2010 19:22

Custody of 5 suspects in Holyland corruption affair extended.
The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extended the custody of five suspects, including the former head engineer of the Jerusalem Municipality and a land developer, who were arrested earlier this month by police investigating the Holyland real estate bribery investigation.

During the remand hearing on Tuesday evening, Judge Avraham Haiman, deputy president of the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, said the police investigation had uncovered “the most severe episode of corruption we have seen, which penetrated the authorities.” He added, “the severity is increased due to the involvement of senior figures, and I will not say more than that.”

According to police suspicions, between 1999 and 2008 the Holyland development company and associated land development projects, then owned by businessman Hillel Charni, paid tens of millions of shekels in bribes to senior public decision makers in the Jerusalem Municipality, members of its planning and construction committee, the Israel Lands Administration, and others, in exchange for their approval for the Holyland housing project in the capital and additional developments in the North.

Real estate developer Meir Rabin is suspected of acting as an intermediary in the alleged bribery ring.

Police say he promoted Holyland projects and passed on tens of millions in bribery money to decision makers in the Jerusalem Municipality.

On Tuesday, Haiman extended Rabin’s custody by ten days.

The police representative to court said Rabin’s involvement in the alleged offenses was “monstrous,” adding that he refused to cooperate with detectives during questioning. “As the fog lifts, things are becoming clearer,” the representative said.

Rabin’s attorney, Esther Toledan, argued that police were seeking to keep her client in custody because law enforcement officials were waiting to question former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was mayor of Jerusalem during the time of the alleged offenses, and who is scheduled to return from abroad this weekend.

Toledan’s claims were rejected by Haiman, who ruled that releasing Rabin would undoubtedly lead to a disruption of the investigation.

Haiman extended Charni’s custody by 10 more days on Tuesday, ruling that a “most solid basis of evidence exists to tie the suspect” to the alleged offenses. Haiman described Charni as the “suspect with the largest interest in the corruption affair.”

The police representative to court said “new evidence” had come to light in recent days pertaining to Charni’s role as alleged bribe-giver to “elements” in the Jerusalem Municipality, and alleged attempts by Charni to disrupt the course of the investigation.

Eliyahu Hasson, an accountant for Holyland who worked under Charni, is suspected of transferring bribery funds to officials and forging documents while attempting to hide evidence of his alleged involvement. Haiman said the evidence he studied in the form of a secret police dossier showed that Hasson “carried out all of his employer’s instructions which were criminal offenses,” and extended Hasson’s custody by nine days.

Uri Sheetrit, former chief Jerusalem Municipality engineer, is suspected of dropping his initial opposition to the Holyland project in Jerusalem and becoming a supporter of the plan after receiving very large bribes.

Haiman extended Sheetrit’s custody by nine days, ruling that his release would disrupt the investigation, and noting a “development” in the investigation into Sheetrit’s alleged role. Sheetrit was “entrusted to safeguard the public interest and scenery of the capital,” Haiman said, adding that “the severity of his offenses were great.”

Police said Sheetrit had “many opportunities” to turn down bribes, but chose to receive them at every available opportunity.

Businessman Avigdor Kelner, who managed the Polar Investments company between 1996 and 2007 and had majority stock ownership in the the Holyland Park and Zera companies, is suspected of paying hundreds of thousands of shekels in bribes via companies he owned to public officials in the Jerusalem Municipality to promote the Holyland residential development.

Citing “new developments” in the investigation into Kelner, Haiman extended his custody by nine days.

Meanwhile, new details have surfaced about a man who served as a business adviser to Charni and helped manage the Holyland development for several years.

The man, named as real estate developer Shmuel Dachner, fell out with Charni over a dispute about how much he should have been paid for his services.

According to a civil lawsuit filed by Dachner at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court last month against a company described as a loan shark, Dachner accumulated heavy debts on the gray market after managing the Holyland project.

According to the lawsuit, Charni began paying off Dachner’s gray market debtors, though in some cases the funds paid by Charni were less than the total debt, sparking the business dispute between the two men.

Dachner had threatened to sue Charni, though the latter reportedly viewed the threat as an attempt to extort him. Source

Holyland case 'just the start'

April 15 2010

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

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.

On Wednesday, the police investigation into suspected massive bribery in the Holyland real estate affair took a dramatic turn when detectives from the National Fraud Unit arrested former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski on suspicion of accepting more than NIS 3 million in bribes to ensure that the housing plan was approved, and of money laundering.

According to police suspicions, between 1999 and 2008, the Holyland development company and associated land development projects, then owned by businessman Hillel Charni, paid tens of millions of shekels in bribes through intermediaries to senior public decision makers in the Jerusalem Municipality, members of its planning and construction committee, the Israel Lands Administration and others, in exchange for their approval for the Holyland housing project in the Malha neighborhood and additional developments in the North.

Lupolianski was deputy mayor and chairman of the municipality’s planning and construction committee between 1993 and 2003, when the Holyland plan was approved. He went on to become a member of the National Building and 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.”

The illicit money was allegedly transferred to Lupolianski in the form of a donation to the Yad Sarah charity for disabled and elderly people, which he founded in 1976.

A Yad Sarah representative released a statement on Wednesday saying that the organization had “nothing to do with 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.

During a remand hearing held for Lupolianski at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday evening, the police representative, Ch.-Supt. Lior Rice, said additional instances of bribery were being investigated, including the transfer of $30,000 to Lupolianski, which he allegedly paid to political field activists to help secure his 2003 mayoral election win. Police also suspect Lupolianski accepted NIS 100,000 in bribes in 2005, as a “donation” to a religious educational center managed by his son.

In return for the cash, police suspect, Lupolianski exploited his positions to promote an enlarged version of the Holyland project within the municipal Construction and Planning Committee, and resisted calls to lower the height of the Holyland residential towers by two stories. He also allegedly helped ensure that almost 1,000 objections to the plan were overruled.

“The suspect was supposed to safeguard the public interest, but in reality he strayed from it,” Rice said. “He saved the project’s backers millions of shekels in expenses and led to the expansion of the project and a significant increase in profit for its backers.”

Judge Avraham Haiman of the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court extended Lupolianski’s custody by five days.

Speaking to Channel 10 News on Tuesday, Lupolianski appeared to attempt to shift responsibility to former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was mayor of Jerusalem 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’s attorney, Yair Golan, said his client had denied all suspicions against him, had consistently presented receipts for donations received to Yad Sarah and did not attempt to hide the identity of donors.

Meanwhile, anticipating an invitation to the police interrogation room, Olmert cut short a trip abroad and arrived in Israel on Wednesday night, where he is reportedly set to be questioned over the Holyland bribery investigation.

“In light of the growing number of reports, according to which police are seeking to question Olmert on his alleged involvement in the Holyland affair, Olmert decided to return to Israel tonight,” a statement released by Olmert’s spokesman, Amir Dan, said on Wednesday.

“Olmert denies any link to the affair, but has publicly stated last week that he is available for any questioning,” the statement said. “We’ve already seen how large headlines at the start of an investigation change radically with time, when the real facts 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.”

On Wednesday night, Israel Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen spoke at an award ceremony for police excellence held at Tel Aviv University, and described the alleged corruption affair as “widespread and very worrying.”

“Corruption within the authorities undermines the foundations of a state built on the rule of law,” he said. Public officials suspected of corruption in the investigation abused their power and exploited their public office “for their own personal benefit,” he added.

Addressing critics of the police investigation, Cohen said, “As someone who knows the details of the affair, I advise them to watch what they say.”

Cohen offered his full backing to the National Fraud Unit and to the Israel Police’s Investigations Branch, which he said carried a “huge burden on its shoulders.”

“This is bad news for the city of Jerusalem,” Mayor Nir Barkat said in a statement on Wednesday night. “I hope the truth comes to light.”

“The Jerusalem Municipality will continue to assist the police in its investigation as needed,” Barkat said.

Haiman extended the custody of five of the suspects on Tuesday. During the questioning of one of the suspects this week, detectives from the National Fraud Unit presented documents bearing the initials “E.O.,” and asked the suspect if he knew who bore the initials. The suspect replied that he did not.

Former Olmert associate Uri Messer, suspected as acting as an intermediary between bribe givers and takers and transferring hundreds of thousands of shekels in bribes, is scheduled to appear before court on Thursday for a third remand hearing.

“We do not yet know whether police will seek to keep Messer in custody or release him,” a source associated with Messer told the Post.

Abe Selig contributed to this report. Source

Former Prime Minister Olmert, also former Mayor of The Jerusalem Municipality: Holyland probe is 'unprecedented character assassination'
By Tomer Zarchin,
April 15 2010

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday made his first comments on the Holyland bribery affair since being named a prime suspect earlier in the day, saying there is not a hint of truth in the allegations against him.

Olmert, who was Jerusalem's mayor from 1993 to 2003 and prime minister from 2006 to 2009, said in a pre-recorded statement aired on prime-time television that he was innocent and ready to answer police questions over the so-called Holyland affair.

"I am saying as adamantly as I said in the past, I have never been offered a bribe, and I never accepted a bribe from any man, for any mater, in any way, whether directly or indirectly," Olmert said.

Olmert was named on Thursday as the previously unidentified senior figure suspected of accepting an NIS 3.5 million bribe to facilitate the construction of the Holyland project in Jerusalem.

Police suspect that, between 1999 and 2008, the Holyland Development Company and associated land developers paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to senior decisionmakers in the Jerusalem municipality, members of its planning and construction committee and officials in the Israel Land Administration.

"I welcome the decision to lift the gag order in what is being called the Holyland affair," Olmert said.

"I am relieved," Olmert said. "My name has in any case appeared in the press, and no one had any doubt about the identity of the suspect named as A.A. This is a case of unprecedented character assassination both in terms of scope and strength."

Olmert went on to add that the allegations have harmed both him and his family, saying baseless rumors about him have been spread that "do not have even a hint of truth to them."

"I supported the Holyland project from the start, when it was just three hotels meant to strengthen tourism in Jerusalem," said Olmert, adding that the project was part of an effort in the mid-1990s to draw non-Orthodox residents to Jerusalem.

Olmert said the project's plan changed after he ceased to be Jerusalem mayor and that he was not involved in it after he left office.

"I want to clarify: In recent years, during the time that I was involved in the state of Israel's most critical matters, the police opened six criminal investigations of bribery against me ? and all six cases that focused on bribery were closed," Olmert said. "Among them was the Bank Leumi case, which was characterized as the most serious corruption case in Israeli history, as were the Cremieux affair and others."

Olmert said the probes have caused him distress, "but not for a moment did I imagine not cooperating with Israel's police investigation," he said.

Olmert, who is already on trial in another corruption case, cut short a trip abroad and returned to Israel early Thursday following reports alleging his involvement.

Olmert's attorney, Eli Zohar, sent a letter to Jerusalem District Attorney Eli Abarbanel on Sunday, asking that the prosecutor's office coordinate the scheduling of any police interrogation of Olmert. However, no response has yet been received.

Police have already questioned dozens of figures connected to the construction project, some of whom testified that Olmert and other senior Jerusalem officials were involved in the suspected graft.

Some of the testimonies went into detail regarding the mechanism with which the funds were allegedly transferred.

Police believe that Olmert received his money through two channels: first through his close friend and associate attorney Uri Messer, who was arrested last week; and second, through his former by bureau chief, Shula Zaken, who is currently abroad and expected to be questioned by police upon her return.

The Rishon Letzion District Court on Thursday released Messer to house arrest on the condition that he would stay outside of Jerusalem and the surrounding area.

The court ruled Messer will have to pay bail in cash, and will be forbidden from traveling abroad for a period of 180 days and from contacting other suspects in the case.

Meanwhile, a Petah Tikva court on Thursday rejected appeals from four other suspects in the case. Hillel Charney, Avigdor Kelner, Eliyahu Hasson and Uri Sheetrit will remain in prison until April 21.

Police announced on Wednesday the arrest of Uri Lupolianski, a rabbi who succeeded Olmert as Jerusalem's mayor and held the post until 2008, in an investigation into whether bribes amounting to millions of dollars were paid for building permits.

No charges have been filed against Lupolianski, who was a deputy mayor under Olmert.

Lupolianski, who was Jerusalem's mayor from 2003 to 2008, is suspected of receiving more than NIS 3 million in bribes from Charney, owner of the site on which the Holyland project was built, in exchange for facilitating the project. Source