Olmert questioned in Holyland real estate scandal


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was questioned in connection with a massive real estate scandal.

Police from the National Unit for Aggravated and International Crime in Lod questioned Olmert for about eight hours on Tuesday as part of the investigation into the Holyland project, which is being described as one of the worst corruption scandals in Israeli history.

Olmert was identified last month by police as the chief suspect in the Holyland scandal, and he voluntarily cut short a planned visit abroad in order to be available for questioning, which did not occur until Tuesday.

He is suspected of accepting nearly hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes during the construction of the Holyland apartment project in Jerusalem, built on the site of the former Holyland Hotel, when he served as Jerusalem mayor. Olmert is currently on trial in other corruption scandals.

At least five other officials have been arrested in connection with the case. They include former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, who followed Olmert in the office, and Uri Messer, a former aide to Olmert when he served as Jerusalem mayor.

The officials are accused of paying or accepting bribes in order to rezone the land from commercial for the originally planned hotels to residential for the luxury apartments that were built, as well as receiving or giving other benefits, such as tax breaks, for the project. 

Police believe that Olmert received his money through Messer and his former bureau chief Shula Zaken, who also is on trial in another corruption scandal involving Olmert.

The Holyland project started while Olmert served as mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003, and continued with his successor, Lupolianski, who served until 2008.

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