Ehud Olmert faces new corruption charges


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The Independent Online

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has been indicted on new corruption charges.

Olmert was accused of taking bribes to promote construction of housing projects, including a huge housing complex in Jerusalem.

The alleged crimes took place while he was mayor of Jerusalem, a position he held before becoming prime minister in 2006.

Olmert has denied all the allegations against him.

He is already standing trial on separate charges of accepting illicit funds from an American supporter and double-billing Jewish groups for trips abroad - also before he became prime minister.

The wide-ranging property scandal at the centre of the case dwarfs the others in which Olmert is accused.

According to the indictment, millions of dollars illegally changed hands to promote a series of projects, including the controversial housing development in Jerusalem that required a radical change in zoning laws and earned the developers tax breaks and other benefits.

Jerusalem residents have long suspected that the Holyland housing development, built on a prominent hilltop, was tainted by corruption, and the indictment against Olmert cements those doubts about his integrity.

Olmert claims no wrongdoing during a three-decade political career dogged by suspicions of corruption but no convictions. The accusations forced Olmert to resign after a three-year term as prime minister in 2009.

The Holyland case broke two years ago on the strength of a businessman involved in the Holyland project who turned state's witness.

The indictment accuses Olmert of seeking money, through a middleman, from Holyland developers to help out his brother Yossi, who fled Israel because of financial problems. According to the indictment, Yossi Olmert received about 100,000 US dollars.

Ehud Olmert is also accused of asking the middleman to help out city engineer Uri Sheetrit, who also had money woes. Sheetrit later dropped his opposition to the broad expansion of the Holyland complex, which burgeoned from a small development into a massive, high-rise project that sticks out from its low-rise neighbours. According to the indictment, Sheetrit received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.

The 87-page indictment also ensnares other powerful Israeli figures.

Former Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupolianski, who succeeded Olmert, was charged in the Jerusalem real estate scandal, and Danny Dankner, the former chairman of Israel's second-biggest bank, was charged with offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to a government official to rezone land for one of his businesses.