Ehud Olmert, former Israeli PM, charged with taking bribes

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrives at the Jerusalem District Court in May last year at the start of a previous corruption trial.

Former Israel prime minister Ehud Olmert has been charged with taking bribes in a housing deal. Prosecutors in Tel Aviv accused him of taking money from property developers in return for supporting the Holyland construction project in southern Jerusalem, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Olmert served as prime minister from 2006 to 2009, and as a Cabinet Minister from 1988 to 1992. He has been plagued by allegations of graft since his time in office. Charges were also filed on Thursday against 17 others linked to the case, including Olmert's bureau chief Shula Zaken and a former Jerusalem mayor, Uri Lupolianski.

All are suspected of giving or taking bribes to advance real estate ventures, most notably the Holyland luxury housing project in Jerusalem. At the time of the alleged bribery, Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem, Haaretz reported. As part of the housing deal, developers were given tax breaks, additional building rights and other benefits worth tens of millions of shekels.

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The key prosecution witness is a businessman identified only as S. who served as middleman for the bribes. He later made a statement to police that he held meetings with Olmert at which the then-mayor spoke of a “give and take” relationship, in which he would help construction firms win political backing and benefits.
In the 87-page indictment, Olmert is accused of taking about $100,000 and funneling the money to his brother, Yossi, who later fled Israel due to financial trouble.

Olmert has repeatedly denied that he took any illicit cash or that he intervened in any way to expedite the housing project, despite publicly supporting it, Al Jazeera reported.

Holyland Park Corporation, which co-owns the development, is believed to be arranging a plea bargain under which it would admit some wrongdoing, Haaretz said.

The Associated Press reported that Olmert is already standing trial on separate charges of accepting illicit funds from an American supporter and over-billing Jewish groups for trips he made abroad.