Olmert: Guilty As Charged
by Stephen Lendman
Exceptions prove the rule. Olmert’s conviction is big. He’s a former Jerusalem mayor (1993 – 2003). Earlier he held Israeli ministerial positions.
He was Israel’s 12th prime minister (April 2006 – March 31, 2009). He’s an unindicted war criminal multiple times over.
In 2006, he waged lawless aggression on Lebanon. From December 27, 2008 – January 18, 2009, he pursued Operation Cast Lead savagery of Gaza.
His rap sheet is blood-drenched. He remains unaccountable for high crimes too grave to ignore.
In August 2009, he was indicted in three corruption cases. They related to Rishon Tours as well as the Talansky and Investment Center affairs. More on them below.
On January 5, 2012, he and over a dozen others were indicted for allegedly giving or receiving bribes related to various real estate deals.
He was charged with taking bribes worth 1.5 million NISs (Israeli New Shekels – around $450,000).
The so-called Holyland case made headlines. It’s a Jerusalem luxury housing project. Olmert was mayor at the time. Later he was Israel Land Administration minister.
In January 2012, Haaretz editors called Holyland corruption “a fight for Israel’s soul. The Israeli entire public must reject corruption and remove those stained by it from government.”
The Holyland complex “emerge(d) as an extravagant memorial to municipal corruption, riches to entrepreneurs, fringe benefits to elected officials, and kickbacks to go-betweens.”
It was business as usual for real estate crooks and complicit politicians. It was “a watershed (case) in the way the public relates to the conduct of government,” said Haaretz.
“(T)he system…will find it hard to present a case.” It’s fundamentally corrupt. It’s not just in Israel.
It’s rife with bribes, kickbacks, and cronyism. Crimes are committed multiple ways. Everyone involved steals all they can.
Doing so makes Israel’s skyline look “ugly.” It holds for numerous others worldwide.
Indictments were made nearly two years after Holyland corruption made headlines. Olmert was named. So were former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski and former Israel Land Administration (ILA) director Yaakov Efrati.
A key prosecution witness was identified only as “S.” He served as middleman fixer in corrupt deals. He told police:
“(I)n talks I held with Mayor Olmert, with chairman of the local planning and building committee Lupolianski and with members of the local committee, it was made clear to me that via the ‘give and take’ method, I could get (what) I desired.”
“I want to stress: The hints were from those people to me, not the reverse, because I wouldn’t have dared.”
Developers got huge tax breaks, additional building rights, and other benefits worth tens of millions of dirty dollars.
Hillel Cherney owned the original Holyland Hotel. He got permit permission to build three new hotels on the 30-acre site.
Real estate interests convinced him a major housing development project would be more profitable. Plans were drawn up to build it.
It involved multiple 12-story buildings and two 30-story ones. He sold part of the project to Holyland Park Corporation (HPC). It was a defendant in the case.
After around half a dozen buildings were completed, experts and Jerusalem residents called them the city’s worst architectural eyesores.
Before construction began, questions remained unanswered. How did developers get excessive building allowances? Why did city and regional planning officials approve an architectural monstrosity?
Anomalies were too obvious to ignore. Police investigated. Evidence was lacking or insufficient. Nothing resulted.
Legitimate evidence surfaced months later. Witness “S” spilled the beans. He told all. He did so in return for immunity. He got help in resolving some of his debts.
A gag order prevented him being named. He was later identified as Shmuel Dachner. Cherney copped a plea. He did so on lesser charges. He was implicated in bribing city officials.
From 2003 – 2007, HPC and complicit parties bribed Jerusalem officials. In return they got what they wanted.
At the same time, so did others for farmland and other rezoning priorities. Months of investigation put the pieces together.
Olmert was implicated in earlier financial crimes. In 1988, he was involved in forging Likud party campaign donation receipts. Others were convicted. He got off scot-free.
In July 2013, he was acquitted of Rison Tours and Talansky corruption charges. He was convicted only of breach of trust in the Investment Center case.
Observers called it one of Israel’s most significant corruption trials. Olmert was accused of double-billing $92,000.
His Rishon Tours account held funds in that amount. They were stolen from public organizations. He allegedly used them for private travel for himself and family members.
He built a relationship with Rishon Tours owner Emanuel Baumelshpiner. Charges alleged he ordered his agency to transfer funds from other customer accounts without their authorization or knowledge.
In the Talansky affair, he was charged with receiving $600,000 from US businessman Morris Talansky from 1993 – 2005.
Allegedly he helped him with various business deals. He claimed the funds were for political, not personal, use.
The court held that despite evidence of conflict of interest, none proved he used his office for criminal wrongdoing.
Prosecutors failed to prove charges beyond a reasonable doubt, it said. Olmert escaped conviction.
Charges relating to failure to disclose US businessman Joe Almaliah’s donations to Israel’s state comptroller as well as misleading him about their source didn’t stick.
Olmert was convicted of one minor breach of trust charge. It hardly mattered. It was for failing to disqualify himself from oversight from various transactions.
The case forced his resignation as prime minister. At the time, Holyland charges remained. On Monday, they came home to roost.
Haaretz headlined “Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convicted of accepting bribes in Holyland case.”
Judge David Rosen’s 700-page verdict convicted him on two bribery charges. They involve accepting 560,000 shekels (around $160,000) from Holyland developers.
Prosecutors alleged he got over 800,000 shekels. He was acquitted on two other corruption charges.
On April 28, lawyers will argue for each side on Olmert’s sentencing. His spokesman Jacob Galanti said he’ll appeal.
Judge Rosen was clear and unequivocal saying:
“Olmert tried to tarnish the name of the state witness and told lies in court. I reject (his) account of events entirely.”
“The state witness bought the services of Ehud Olmert. He transferred NIS 500,000 to Yossi Olmert (Olmert’s brother) following Ehud Olmert’s request.”
The case involved over a dozen other defendants. Cherney was convicted of bribing Jerusalem officials. So was Meir Rabin.
He was Shmuel Dechner’s (witness “S”) “right-hand man,” said Haaretz.
Avigdor Kellnor was one of Holyland’s founding partners. He was convicted of bribery. He was acquitted on other charges.
Former Jerusalem mayor Lupolianski was convicted of accepting bribes. So was former city chief engineer Uri Shitrit.
Israeli Land Administration head Yaakov Efrati was acquitted. So were Holyland Park managers Amnon Saffran and Shimon Galon.
Haaretz said prosecutors “requested a stay of exit order for all” convicted defendants. Olmert’s lawyer said “(w)e need time to review and analyze the verdict.”
Shula Zaken was Olmert’s former bureau chief. Judge Rosen called her testimony problematic and inconsistent.
“It was clear in court she was willing to sacrifice herself,” he said. Olmert believed she remained loyal.
In early March, information surfaced about her plea bargain negotiations in return for turning state’s witness.
She “kept silent during the trial…and paid a price for it,” said Rosen. Haaretz justifiably called Holyland one of Israel’s largest ever corruption cases.
Crime usually pays. Convicting a former prime minister is almost unheard of. In Israel it was a first. It’s nots over. It remains to be seen what follows on appeal.
A Final Comment
Last July, Israeli/Palestinian peace talks were dead on arrival. It bears repeating what earlier articles stressed.
Israel doesn’t negotiate. Nor does Washington. They demand. They’re all take and no give. Ongoing talks offer Palestinians nothing.
Longstanding issues mattering most aren’t resolved. They include sovereign Palestine free from occupation, the right of return, settlements, borders, resource control, water and air rights, and East Jerusalem as Palestine’s exclusive capital.
Ending besieged Gaza isn’t even discussed. The rights of nearly 1.8 million Palestinians don’t matter. Slow-motion genocide suffocates them.
Israel considers Arabs subhumans. Jews alone have rights. Muslims are criminalized for praying to the wrong God.
So-called peace talks teeter on collapse. An April 29 cutoff date was agreed on. It’s four weeks away.
On Monday, PLO officials rejected Israel’s proposal to extend talks. John Kerry is pressuring Abbas to continue them.
He arrived back in Israel. He left after Sunday talks with Sergei Lavrov on Ukraine. He’ll meet with both sides.
Ahead of coming, a Palestinian official said “Israel made a proposal which was refused by the Palestinians.”
It’s “practicing a policy of blackmail and linking its agreement to releasing the fourth batch of prisoners with the Palestinians accepting to extend the negotiations.”
Israel agreed to do so along with another 420. It means nothing. Choices mentioned exclude sick detainees, women, children, and significant political prisoners supporters demand be released.
At the same time, settlement expansions continue unabated. Gazan rights are entirely excluded. Occupation harshness persists.
“The Israeli proposal aims to continue the negotiations indefinitely, without any results, in parallel with continued settlement building,” the PLO official said.
On Sunday, Netanyahu said “(e)ither the matter will be resolved (before long) or it will blow up.”
Kerry said he’ll reserve judgment. Decision-making time arrived, he added. Perhaps he means unconditional Palestinian surrender.
He pursued it from inception. He’s Israel’s man in Washington. His job is muscling Palestinians to accept what demands rejection.
It remains to be seen if Abbas betrays his people again. He supports occupation harshness. He ignores Palestinian suffering. He turns a blind eye to Gaza’s siege.
He’s Palestine’s illegitimate president. Israel rigged his election. His term expired in January 2009. He refuses to step down.
He hasn’t called for new elections. He sold out earlier at Oslo. He serves as Israel’s enforcer.
He benefits handsomely for services rendered. He’s near retirement. He doesn’t want to spoil things now.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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