Former Israel PM indicted for graft in property scandal

Former Israel PM indicted for graft in property scandal

Former Israel PM indicted for graft in property scandal

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (C) appears in Jerusalem District Court in this December 21, 2009 file photo. REUTERS photo

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert was on Thursday indicted alongside a number of other people for allegedly taking bribes in a massive property scandal, judicial sources said.

The allegations stem from Olmert's tenure as Jerusalem mayor and will add to the woes of the former premier, who is already on trial on three unrelated counts of fraud and bribery.

Olmert is accused of allegedly accepting bribes to smooth the way for the construction of the huge Holyland residential complex in Jerusalem during his tenure as mayor in the 1990s.

"An indictment has been served on Olmert and others," a spokeswoman for the courts administration told AFP.

The indictment named Olmert, his former aide Shula Zaken and his successor as mayor, Uri Lupolianski, along with several senior city hall officials, prominent businessmen and property developers.

Last March, the justice ministry said Israeli prosecutors were poised to file charges against 18 people, including Olmert, for allegedly taking bribes during the time when he was mayor of Jerusalem.

"From the evidence, it appears that a long list of public servants at the Jerusalem municipality apparently received bribes to promote the Holyland project and the interests of its developers," a ministry statement said at the time.

In April 2010, prosecutors officially named Olmert as a key suspect in the Holyland affair in which he is suspected of having taken bribes totalling some 1.5 million shekels ($390,000/303,000 euros at the current exchange rate).

The bribes were allegedly given during construction of the massive complex in the 1990s. He has been questioned at least three times by police and has denied all the charges.

In a statement accompanying the 85-page indictment, the justice ministry said 150 police investigators had worked on the case which had seen elected officials and employees of Jerusalem municipality receive "millions of shekels" in bribes in order to advance the Holyland project.

"The seriousness of the indictment does not only stem from its scope, but from the fact that this is about a lone public official who was corrupt, but a large number of public sector employees and elected officials, beginning with Jerusalem municipality, the city engineer, two mayors, the director of the Israel Lands Authority and up to the trade and industry minister and his bureau chief," it said.

Olmert resigned under pressure in September 2008 after police recommended he be indicted in several other cases of graft which all relate to a period before he became premier in 2006.

He is accused of unlawfully accepting gifts of cash-stuffed envelopes from Jewish-American businessman Morris Talanski and of multiple-billing for foreign trips.

He has also been charged with cronyism in connection with an investment centre which he oversaw when he was trade and industry minister between 2003 and 2006.

The former premier has described the graft investigation against him as "a brutal, ruthless witch-hunt, the likes of which have never before been seen in Israel." Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003 after which he served as a cabinet minister, holding the trade and industry portfolio as well as several others, until he became premier in 2006.