Former prime minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday attacked the credibility of the state’s main witness in the Holyland corruption trial, calling him “a liar” and his testimony “fairy tales.” The witness alleged in testimony Sunday that Olmert was involved in bribery surrounding the massive property development.
“The claims are fairy tales issued from the mind of a dubious liar,” Olmert’s spokesman said Sunday. “Instead of putting this man behind bars, the prosecution struck a deal with him, buying him off with millions and continuing to hide his identity from the public, even as he testifies.”
The state’s main witness stepped down from the stand early, citing health reasons, after a five-hour period of questioning Sunday.
Olmert and a host of other officials and businesspeople have been indicted as part of a scandal involving the construction of the large Holyland residential project in Jerusalem.
The prosecution requested to move up the testimony of the state’s witness, identified only as S.D., in February, citing his poor health. The court agreed to hear the state’s witness early, originally scheduling him for 10 hours of testimony a day.
Despite requests by the prosecution to halt the testimony of the witness, who was visibly losing his concentration, Judge David Rosen insisted that he continue as long as he could. After five and a half hours of testimony, including short breaks, the judge accepted the request of the witness and halted the questioning, which is due to resume again Monday morning.
In his testimony the state witness told the court that bribery played a large part in pushing the Holyland project through, and specified that a nine million shekel bribe had been paid to expand the project.
“Without the blessing of Olmert and [former Jerusalem mayor Uri] Lupolianski, the plan would never have come to fruition,” the witness said.
He began his testimony by saying the Holyland developers obtained special building permits by means of bribery.
“The Holyland project’s building rights allowed construction on an area of 25,000 square meters,” he said. “But because of criminal activities carried out with the knowledge, approval and financing of [landowner] Hillel Charney, we were able to obtain a permit for 311,000 square meters.”
The Holyland real estate scandal, considered by many the most serious corruption scandal in Israeli history, implicated Olmert, who served as Jerusalem’s mayor before becoming prime minister; former Jerusalem mayor Lupolianski; and former Israel Lands Administration director Yaakov Efrati, among others.
Olmert, for his part, is being charged with acts allegedly committed while he was mayor, from 1993 to 2003.
Olmert’s media adviser Amir Dan told reporters the Holyland trial state witness’s testimony is “a bunch of ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ tales, issued forth from a liar’s teeming brain.”
Rosen instructed the state witness before the beginning of his testimony to “feel as free as possible and tell the truth and only the truth.”
A verdict for Olmert on a string of other corruption charges, including the Talansky affair and the Rishon Tours affair, is expected July 10.
In the Talansky affair, Olmert is suspected of bribery or campaign finance irregularities while serving as mayor of Jerusalem, with American businessman Morris Talansky being one of the witnesses called against him. In the Rishon Tours affair, the company’s CEO, Emanuel Baumwolspiner, is suspected of involvement in the double billing of Olmert’s travel expenses.
If convicted on all the charges, Olmert could face five years in prison.
The judges will also issue a verdict to Olmert’s personal aid Shula Zaken who was charged with assisting Olmert in processing and hiding bribes.
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