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      Police Say: Indict Olmert in Holyland Scandal

      Israel Police says it will recommend that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert be indicted for alleged bribery in the Holyland apartments scandal.
      By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
      First Publish: 8/23/2010, 1:27 PM / Last Update: 8/23/2010, 1:59 PM

      Israel news photo

      Israel Police said on Monday it will recommend that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert be indicted for alleged bribery in the Holyland project. 

      The Holyland probe revolved around suspicions that Olmert took huge bribes from businessmen to advance the Holyland project - hundreds of apartments that overlook the southern part of the capital, built on land that was originally not zoned for residences. Bribes were also allegedly paid to Jerusalem officials.

      Olmert’s lawyers, as in all of the previous charges against him, have denied all guilt.

      The former prime minister’s advisor Amir Dan ridiculed the recommendation. "Instead of making baseless recommendations, the police ought to stop concealing information from the public, and finally lift the scandalous gag order on the state's witness, which has been in place for six months already,” Dan said in a statement.      

      "Olmert has said in the clearest way possible that he has never taken a bribe, either directly or indirectly. It is not surprising that, after months in which the police have been creating accusatory headlines, they lack the public courage to close the file. The police's recommendation has no real significance, since the police have no responsibility in this matter, except for creating headlines."

      Olmert took over, as Acting Prime Minister, for incapacitated Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who suffered a stroke in early 2006 and still is comatose. Olmert's political fortunes began to decline after he was elected in early 2006 following the stroke.

      Beside enduring criticism for the government’s involvement in handling the crisis and ensuing war against Hizbullah in the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Olmert has faced a long strong of criminal charges, some of which have been dropped. He was forced to resign from office two years ago as corruption charges swirled around him.

      Previous accusations have stemmed from the 2007 investigation of allegations that he tried to help an Australian millionaire friend to win a tender for the government’s shares of Bank Leumi. The friend, Frank Lowy, eventually declined to pursue the deal. No charges were placed against Olmert.

      He also was probed for possible criminal behavior in Investment Center dealings and later was grilled by police for accepting more than $150,000 in cash in envelopes from New York businessman Morris Talansky while Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem.

      "I never took bribes, I never took a penny for myself,” Olmert insisted. Police recommended that the government file criminal charges against him in the case.

      Another scandal involved the "double-billing” scheme in which RishonTours issued two invoices for the same trips by Olmert, who allegedly pocketed the extra money.

      Last year, indictments were served against the former Prime Minister for alleged fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate documents and tax evasion in three of the cases—RishonTours, Investment Center and the Talansky affair.

      He was to face a hearing last year but received special permission to fly to the United States for treatment of a prostate cancer that he previously reported as being minor.

      Despite the multitude of accusations, Olmert has been earning $50,000 and more for public speaking appearances in the United States and elsewhere.