"I've Never Accepted a Bribe from Anyone"

Ehud Olmert defends himself against allegations he took kickbacks.

Published: April 15th 2010
in News » Israel

Fomer Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

On Thursday, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert jumped out of the gates swinging, fervidly denying charges that peg him as the principal culprit in the Holyland real estate scandal.


During a brief statement that was televised, Olmert described the accusations against him as an orchestrated “attempt to kill my image” although he thanked the police for removing the gag order on his alleged role in the affair.


“I firmly declare, I was never offered a bribe, and never accepted a bribe from anyone in any way, either directly or indirectly,” he said.


Defending himself against the brunt of the rumours that are circulating about him, he said that the allegations were “baseless and don’t contain an ounce of truth.”


At that point, Olmert attempted to pass the blame onto Uri Lupolianski, the man who became mayor of Jerusalem after him. He claimed that he had always supported the Holyland real estate program, but that during his tenure as mayor it had only involved several hundred non-haredi housing units; that the changes that have lead to the current scandal stemmed from changes “after my tenure. I had no hand in those changes.”


"What we have here is a character assassination attempt that is unprecedented in its scope and might," he said. "I am wholly uninvolved in the changes that took place later.”


Olmert asked the Israeli public and the press to let the investigation run its course without leaping to judgement early. “Don’t prejudge, don’t draw unjustified conclusions and don’t assist with the perversion of the course of justice,” he said.


According to Ynet, the former Prime Minister will be interrogated sometime in the next few days over the allegations.


The scandal revolves around a police investigation into the years  1999 to 2008, when the Holyland development company and related development plans, all owned at the time by businessman Hillel Charni, allegedly used tens of millions of shekels to bribe Jerusalem senior public policy makers, members of the city’s planning and construction committee, the Israel Lands Administration and other bodies.


In repayment, those who received the bribes okayed an expansion of the Holyland deal into the Malha neighbourhood and into the North part of Jerusalem.


Olmert is suspected by the authorities of accepting bribes from businessman and other individuals who had an interest in the project.


Reports about the amount of the bribes have varied, from hundreds of thousands to millions of shekels, the Jerusalem Post reported.


Israeli media has painted Olmert as the principal player in the scandal and the police’s main suspect.


Currently, Uri Messer, an associate of Olmert’s, is under house arrest after leaving court Thursday afternoon. He is accused of being the bagman between the bribers and those receiving the money, moving around hundreds of thousands of shekels.


Also on Thursday, police announced that they now have a state witness.  They furthermore said that an official who is connected to the Jerusalem municipal government and runs a large construction company involved in the Holyland project has been arrested.


On Thursday morning, Jerusalem Councillor Meir Turgeman, who leads the council’s opposition, said in an interview with Israel Radio that he believes the Holyland real estate scandal was “just the start.” He wants the police to investigate other large construction project that he thinks may have been build with kickbacks.


He added that construction plans at the YMCA compound, the Gilo Uptown development and the Mamilla area may have been permitted after bribes were handed out.


On Wednesday, National Fraud Unit detectives arrested Lupolianski for allegedly taking NIS 3 million in bribes and laundering money.


"I'm here. I'm willing to be interrogated at any stage and at any moment the police decide they wish to question me,” said Olmert.

Related articles: (ehud olmert, uri lupolianski, ehud olmert, holyland, bribes)

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